War Crimes Trials - Vol. II The Belsen Trial. 'The Trial of Josef Kramer and Forty Four Others'
By the beginning of April, 1945, the war against Germany was nearly finished, and on all sides Allied troops were penetrating the Fatherland. On the 12th April the German Military Commander at Bergen approached the Commander of the Allied Forces in that area with a view to negotiating a local truce in respect of the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen; his declared purpose in so doing being the prevention of the spread of typhus, which had broken out in the camp.
On the same day an agreement was reached between Chief of Staff 1st Parachute Army, Military Commandant Bergen, and Brigadier General Staff, 8 Corps. The general purpose of this agreement was the prevention of fighting in the area of the camp, and consequently the segregation of the typhus patients therein.
On the 15th April the first British officer arrived at the camp. This was Captain (then Lieutenant) D. A. Sington, a German-speaking officer in charge of an amplifying unit, who came to inform the inmates of the camp that the Germans had left and that the Allies had taken over. Shortly afterwards a number of other officers and other ranks arrived at the camp; of these the most important were Lieut.- Colonel Taylor, R.A., Officer Commanding 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, R.A., who (with one of his Batteries) was to undertake the administration of the camp, and Brigadier H. L. Glyn Hughes, Deputy Director Medical Services, Second Army, who was to be responsible for the medical organization of the camp.
On arrival at the camp these officers discovered the conditions which were to astonish and to horrify the world a day or so later. Briefly, these were that in a camp of the approximate dimensions of 1500 by 350 metres were confined about 40000 men and women in the most extreme state of starvation and emaciation, many of them suffering from typhus; that there were, in addition, 13000 unburied corpses, and that for the living there was little food, less sleeping and living accommodation, and no medical assistance.
All these matters were the subject of sensational accounts in the newspapers, and Belsen became the symbol of all that had been told (and scarcely credited) of the vileness and rottenness of the Nazi system. Other camps were unearthed as the Allied armies moved forward, and some of them were worse than Belsen, at least with regard to their calculated savagery and cruelty. But Belsen, because it was the first of which an impartial account was available, became the archetype of the rest; and a proof that it was not an imaginary evil which the Allies had been fighting for almost six years.
With public horror at the stories that came from Belsen went a public, demand that those responsible should be punished for their deeds. Many arrests were made at once; but ill the chaotic conditions which existed the collection of evidence was no easy task, and so it was not until September, 1945, that the accused were brought to trial. And even then there were some indications of haste in the choice of evidence and in the selection of the accused. It is possible that the delay of a further month or so would have produced a more balanced and better case.
It has been said that there was a public demand that those responsible should be punished, but to many it seemed superfluous that there should be a trial at all, and the popular cry was for summary identification and execution of the offenders. This view was not accepted by those in authority, and it was agreed that the accused should receive a trial by a Military Court. There call be little doubt that this was the correct decision, and this will become plainer as the years go by and the proceedings can be examined with the dispassionate eye of the historian.
But the public was not dispassionate, and there were many at the time who declared that the trial was a farce and an insult to those who had died at Belsen, and to those who had died to liberate it. Such an outcry was not surprising seeing that the trial lasted for many weeks, that there was no space to report it adequately in the newspapers, and that consequently it was difficult for the man - in - the - street to know what it was all about. It is hoped that this volume, which contains the bulk of the evidence adduced at the trial, will enable a better and more balanced judgment to be formed.
It is the purpose of this Introduction to give such information about the Court, the accused, the charge, the procedure, the evidence and similar matters, as will enable the reader more easily to thread the maze of the trial and to appreciate, before he starts to read it, the issues Involved and the background against which they were determined.
His Majesty, by Royal Warrant dated the 14th June, 1945 made certain "Regulations for the Trial of War Criminals." Acting under that Warrant the General Officer Commanding 30 Corps summoned a Military Court to sit at Lüneburg on Monday 17th September, 1945, to try Josef Kramer and 44 others on two alleging the breach by, them of the Law and Usages of War. The trial started on the 17th September and finished on the 17th November, 1945, having occupied fifty-four working days.
The Court was a military one, and consisted of five British officers, including the President, Major-General H. P. M. Berney-Ficklin, C.B., M.C.; they were assisted by C. L. Stirling, Esq., K.C., sitting as Judge Advocate. The Prosecution was conducted by four officers of the Legal Staff, Headquarters British Army of the Rhine, headed by Colonel T. M. Backhouse, M.B.E., T.D. The accused were represented by one Polish and eleven British regimental officers, all of whom had held a legal qualification in civil life. It was by their own election that the accused were represented by British, rather than by German, Counsel.
In the course of the trial, and at the request of the defending officers, Colonel Smith (sometime Professor of International Law at London University) was added as an additional defending officer on behalf of all the accused. The purpose of this addition was to enable the defence to be more expertly developed in the sphere of International Law. It was not until after the trial had started that the assistance of Colonel Smith was obtained, and it is for this reason that his argument (which should logically have taken the form of an objection to the charge at the start of the proceedings) will be found at the end of the trial amongst the final speeches of the other defending officers.
Before considering the charges it is necessary to say something about concentration camps and their organization. It is important to remember that they were not all original product of the war, but had existed in a lesser role since the advent of Hitler to power. In 1939 there were six of these camps with a population of about 21000 and these internees may be roughly classified as criminals, political undesirables, and Jews. The object of the camps was the incarceration of all those whose continued freedom seemed to threaten the security of the Nazi regime; they were in fact prisons of a particularly brutal and unpleasant kind. They operated behind a wall of secrecy, and the terror of the unknown and the stories which filtered through served as a powerful deterrent and discouragement to the opponents of the new Power. The war added greatly to the number of these camps and radically changed their purpose, but it is fair to say that the foundations of the system were laid in the days of peace.
As the war continued, the purpose which these camps served began to change and a new policy became apparent; but it was a double-headed policy, the two branches of which were inconsistent. On the one hand there arose the plan to exterminate the Jews, Slavs and other so-called "inferior" peoples, and on the other the plan to take advantage of all the slave labour which the occupied territories could afford. By 1942 this development was very marked, and the immediate result was a huge increase in the number of camps, the setting up of extermination camps for the purpose of destroying the Jews and others, and the siting of camps alongside industrial centres where the slave labour could be conveniently employed.
These two plans were inconsistent, because a Jew consigned to the gas chamber was a worker lost and because the conditions in which slave workers were forced to live ensured that they would not be fit to work for very long. The practical result of this interplay of policies was that internees were forced to live and work in intolerable conditions until their health was such that they could work no longer, whereupon they were destroyed. The organization of these camps was never very rigid one, and conditions and the purpose behind them varied from time to time, and from place to place; but for the most part these policies, of work and of extermination, seem to have been the inspiration of the system.
The whole cannot be better summarized than in the words of greeting addressed by the S.S. guard to Maurice Lamps and others on their arrival, in March, 1944, at Mauthausen Concentration Camp: "Germany needs your arms. You are, therefore, going to work; but I want to tell you that never again will you see your families. Who enters this camp, will leave it only by the chimney of the crematorium."
The control and organization of the concentration camps was in the hands of the dreaded S.S. This body had as its objects the personal protection of the Führer and the internal security of the Reich. It was recruited from, "volunteered political soldiers," who were carefully treated and trained to make certain that they were ideologically sound. In the later days of the war the voluntary principle was somewhat relaxed, and a number of recruits were obtained by conscription, particularly from amongst the "Volksdeutsch" coming from the occupied territories. Thus, the fact that a man was a member of the S.S. in 1944 or 1945 does not necessarily mean that he was a volunteer.
Before the war the concentration camp guards were drawn from the ranks of the Totenkopfverbände (Death's Head Units) of the S.S.; but during the war these units were withdrawn from guard duty and were absorbed by the Waffen S.S., who were mostly fighting troops. Thereafter, so far as the S.S. were concerned, the guards were provided by the Allgemeine S.S. (General S.S.). From the middle of the war onwards, however, the guards were largely provided by foreign, often Hungarian, troops, and it was only occasionally that the S.S. or the Wehrmacht performed these duties. The guards here spoken of are those who were responsible for the external defence of the camps. Duties within the camps were performed almost exclusively by the S.S. indeed, the concentration camp service was something distinct and apart, and within it the S.S. was supreme. No visitor - not even a member of the S. S.S. - was allowed to enter a camp except upon the direct authority of Headquarters at Oranienburg. This secrecy and seclusion was of the very essence of the system, for it added to the sense of fear and insecurity which extended beyond the boundaries of the camps and permeated the whole of Germany.
The main organization of the concentration camps was the responsibility of the Economic and Administrative Department of the S.S. (W.V.H.A.), the head of which was Obergruppenführer Pöhl, assisted by S.S. Brigadeführer Glücks, the head of Office D. They were concerned with the general administration of all camps, but not with the incarceration and release of prisoners. That was the responsibility of the Gestapo, Office IV of the Reich Security Head Office (R.S.H.A.), under Müller. The head of the R.S.H.A. after February, 1943, was Kaltenbrunner, and before that Heydrich. The W.V.H.A. and R.S.H.A. were merely departments of the S.S., over which Himmler had a general control. So far as the S.S. is concerned, the ultimate responsibility for the camps was his. These names, Pöhl, Glücks, Müller and Himmler occur frequently throughout the trial, and they may truly be regarded as the evil geniuses of the whole system.
The Gestapo seem to have had a dual function in the camps. On the one hand they were responsible for the higher direction; who should be imprisoned, who released, who murdered, what experiments should be allowed, whether prisoners should be furnished to the laboratories, and so on. On the other it was their duty to consider the behaviour of the other members of the S.S., to see whether they obeyed their orders, and to make sure that they remained ideologically faithful. As a result they were responsible not only to the Camp Commander, but had direct access to Headquarters at Oranienburg, and to Himmler.
Apart from guard duties, the work of the S.S. in the camps was mainly administrative and they filled such offices as Commandant, Doctor, Quartermaster, N.C.O. in charge of a compound, and so on. The number of S.S. available was usually small, and they were assisted in their work by specially appointed prisoners who were given a certain authority over their fellows. They were usually referred to by the generic term of "Kapos" or "Functionaries." in addition, they are called after the office which they performed, as "Lagerältester," "Blockältester," "Stubendienst," "Schreiber" and so on. It is not easy to be precise about this terminology, for the names mean different things at different places and times, and even in the same camp. The S.S. had similar titles (apart from their rank) according to the work which they did, as "Lagerführer," "Blockführer" and so on. Wherever the word "Führer" occurs in a title it is safe to assume that the reference is to a member of the S.S.
In general, every member of the S.S. had a functionary as his opposite number. For example, an S.S. N.C.O. in charge of a compound (Lagerführer) would have a prisoner (Lagerältester) to assist him; and he would often pass on his orders through this functionary. The purpose of the latter's appointment was thus partly for the transmission of orders and partly for the exercise of a measure of control and discipline on his own account. Such functionaries would usually be able to speak both German and the language of the hut or compound of which they had charge.
As a reward for their services these functionaries escaped much of the ill-treatment which was accorded to their fellows, and usually did a little better in the way of food and accommodation; also, while they remained in favour, they were safe from the gas chamber. Recruited as they were for this work, it is not surprising that they were sometimes as brutal as the S.S. Concentration camps contained criminals as well as professors, and in the nature of things the appointment of Kapo usually went to the former rather than to the latter.
In addition to the ordinary S.S. there were female S.S. who were employed to administer the women's compounds, to run cookhouses, and to do similar work of a minor administrative kind. Their title was "Aufseherin." These female S.S. were mostly conscripts. At the time when slave labour was being supplied to the factories, it was necessary that there should be forewomen to supervise the work, and the factories were required to supply these supervisors from amongst their German employees. From time to time these supervisors were compulsorily drafted to concentration camps to act as Aufseherinnen.
Concentration camps were of five main kinds: Extermination, Labour, Sick, Experimental and Training. By far the greatest in number were the Extermination (e.g. Auschwitz I) and Labour (e.g. Auschwitz II) camps. The former were provided with elaborate gas chambers and crematoria, where the work of killing could be efficiently conducted; the latter were sited near industries to which the internees traveled daily to work. Often these two types of camp were combined, or adjacent to each other, as at Auschwitz; so that when the internee had reached such a state of exhaustion that his work no longer repaid his keep, he could be conveniently dispatched to the gas chamber.
Of the remaining types, Experimental camps were for the conduct of scientific and pseudo-scientific experiments upon unwilling human guinea-pigs; Sick camps were for the use of those sick internees whose death was not immediately required; and Training camps were for the training of the S.S. in the concentration camp technique. But this classification is not a rigid one, and often a single camp contained in itself characteristics of several types. For example, Auschwitz was in almost equal parts an Extermination and a Labour camp, and in addition certain experiments were carried on there; and Ravensbrück, though a Training camp for the S.S., supplied large numbers of prisoners to the adjacent Siemens factories.
The position of Belsen was unorthodox and it fell into none of these classes. Originally, it had contained a comparatively small number of "exchange Jews" ; Jews, that is to say, whom it had been decided to repatriate, or to allow to leave Germany, for reasons of State or for profit. At that period it had been comparatively well managed. Towards the end of 1944 it was designated a Sick camp, and it was only then and in 1945 that the numbers increased and that the appalling conditions developed. The sudden influx of prisoners was mainly the result of the evacuation of other camps in the east which had been overrun by the Russians. The conditions discovered at Belsen at the time of the liberation may not have been the result of a calculated plan on the part either of those in command of the camp or of those in authority at Oranienburg, except in so far as it was a part of their policy to disregard, and to do nothing to alleviate, the suffering of their prisoners. The horrible results of their criminal neglect are related in the pages of the trial. But to appreciate the questions in issue in the trial it is essential to bear in mind throughout this fundamental distinction between the conditions at Belsen and at Auschwitz: namely, that the conditions at Belsen were caused by criminal and inexcusable neglect coupled with an administrative breakdown, while the conditions at Auschwitz were the direct result of a carefully designed and executed policy of long standing.
Although the trial is often popularly called the " Belsen Trial," there were two distinct charges upon which the accused were arraigned; some upon one charge only, and some upon both. The first related to them Poles), who, having started as prisoners of the Germans and having been " promoted," ended up alongside them in the dock. Thus the question of responsibility was complicated not only by the different conditions at Belsen and Auschwitz but also by the diversity of the accused in status and function.
At the outset of the trial the defending officers applied to have the two charges tried separately, on the ground that there was no connection between them and that they did not form part of a series of offences. Application was also made that the accused should not be tried jointly on the ground that if so tried they would be embarrassed in their defence. Both these applications were refused. The arguments on this subject will be found in their place. There can be no doubt that the large number of accused, and the two charges, added much to the length of the trial, and made the issues less well defined than would otherwise have been the case.
The procedure governing the trial was part of the law of this country, being laid down by the Regulations for the Trial of War Criminals made under Royal Warrant Of 14th June, 1945. But the substantive law under which the charges were laid was International Law, as it existed at the time when the alleged offences were committed. It is important to remember that the accused were charged in this way under existing International Law, and to contrast the Belsen Trial with the Nuremberg Trial, where the law applied derived largely from Allied Agreements and Proclamations designed for that purpose. Apart from its revelation of the conditions existing in concentration camps, the importance of the Belsen Trial lies in the fact that it was probably the first trial ever to take place in which International Law was applied to offences of this kind.
This being so, it was fortunate that Colonel Smith was able to appear as an additional defending officer and to deliver an informed argument on international Law. He pointed out that the Regulations were procedural only, that the law governing the trial was International Law, and that it must be applied as it existed at the date of the alleged offences. Dealing with the definition of a war crime, he submitted that there were only four classes of these, which were correctly set out in the Manual of Military Law, and that of those the only one which could be applicable to the case was the first, namely, the violation of the recognised rules of warfare by members of the armed forces. He pointed out that concentration camps existed in peace, and submitted that what had happened had nothing to do with the waging of war. So far as the occupation of enemy territory and the removal of inhabitants were concerned, he submitted that if a crime had been committed it lay in the removal and imprisonment of the inhabitants, and that for this the State and not the individual gaolers must bear the responsibility.
Dealing with the conflict between International Law and Municipal Law, Colonel Smith argued that it was the universal practice of civilized States to require their nationals to obey their own law. He suggested that, so far as German Law was concerned, the annexation of occupied territories, the establishment of concentration camps, the confinement therein of the prisoners, and the construction and use of gas chambers was legal, and submitted that German citizens could not be punished for what was alleged to be a breach of International Law when what they had done was lawful by their own law. He pointed out that this was a different defence from that of "superior orders" and said that even the Prosecution agreed that a German could not be guilty of the commission of a war crime against another German or a German ally. So far as the Germans and German Law were concerned, he submitted that nearly all the inmates of concentration camps had become German nationals by annexation and were there lawfully imprisoned.
Turning to the defence of "superior orders," Colonel Smith submitted that everything which had happened had been upon the general or particular orders of the accused's superior. He argued that in these circumstances there was a good defence, and submitted that the amendment to the Manual of Military Law was not a correct statement of the law. He pointed out that it was dated April, 1944, and suggested that it had been made with trials of this sort in mind; and said that if the Court accepted it they would be applying the law not as it existed at the time of the alleged offences but as it was modified afterwards. But apart from the amendment being subsequent to the alleged offences, Colonel Smith suggested that it did not accord with the opinion of the majority of international lawyers, but merely expressed the view of a particular school.
For the Prosecution, Colonel Backhouse submitted that the treatment accorded to the internees constituted a war crime because, whether the internees were looked upon either as prisoners of war or as inhabitants removed from occupied territories, that treatment violated the provisions of both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention, which dealt with those classes of person. He pointed out that it was nonsense to say that this treatment had nothing to do with the war; it had everything to do with it, for the internees had come to Germany as a direct result of the war, and in pursuance of the German war aim, of destroying the Jews and Poland, and of acquiring slave labour.
So far as the conflict between German and International Law was concerned, Colonel Backhouse said that it was by no means established that the majority of the internees came from annexed countries and were regarded by German Law as German nationals. In any event, it was for the accused before embarking on a career of ill-treatment and brutality to make certain who their victims were.
Dealing with the plea of "superior orders," he stated that this was matter of defence, and that it was for the accused to prove that what was done was done on orders from above. Colonel Backhouse said that, with the exception of the gas chamber, the accused had completely failed to prove the facts necessary to found this defence. In any event, he submitted that the version of the law in the amendment of April, 1944, as the correct one and should be followed by the Court. If that were so then it was clear that this defence was not open to the accused.
Briefly, these are the arguments adduced by the Prosecution and Defence on the subject of international Law, which can be more fully appreciated in the text; the advice by the judge Advocate to the Court will be found in his summing-up. No reasoned judgment is delivered by a Military Court, but it is clear from the verdicts and sentences that the plea of "superior orders" was rejected as an unsound defence - as has been the case in most recent war crimes trials - although attention was probably paid to it as mitigating the offence of particular accused.
As has been said, the procedure for war crimes trials is laid down in the Regulations for the Trial of War Criminals. By Regulation 3 it is provided that the Rules of Procedure governing a Field General Court - Martial shall apply to a war crimes trial, save in so far as therein otherwise provided. These Rules of Procedure are made by Order in Council under the authority of the Army Act. The effect of this provision is that the procedure for the trial was substantially the same as that for a Field General Court - Martial. This in turn is based upon the procedure of English Criminal Law, and requires no comment.
The duty of the Judge Advocate is to advise the Court upon matters of law, both substantive and procedural, and to sum up the case. He takes no part in the decision of the Court.
The relevant Law of Evidence was that applicable to a Field General Court - Martial, which is the English Law. But the Regulations for the Trial of War Criminals make certain modifications for the purpose of these trials which have an important effect upon the admission of evidence. Regulation 8 (i) (a) - (f) specifies certain types of evidence which shall be admissible. These are not of great importance, for Regulation 8 (i) itself is drawn in such wide terms. It reads:
"At any hearing before a Military Court convened under these Regulations the Court may take into consideration any oral statement or any document appearing on the face of it to be authentic, provided the statement or document appears to the Court to be of assistance in proving or disproving the charge. . ."
The Regulation ends: -
'It shall be the duty of the Court to judge of the weight to be attached to any evidence given in pursuance of this Regulation which would not otherwise be admissible."
This Regulation inevitably received a wide interpretation which admitted much evidence that would otherwise have been inadmissible. Such a relaxation of the ordinary rules was clearly required, for, of necessity, many of the witnesses were dead or their whereabouts unknown. Amongst the evidence so admitted was hearsay, which added a good deal to the length of the trial; for once it is admitted at all, it is difficult to know where to draw the line. A reader used to the ordinary rules of evidence will at first find it strange to read a good deal of the evidence which follows.
The greatest single body of evidence admitted by the Regulation was that of the affidavits ; more than half of the evidence for the Prosecution was in this form. These affidavits had been prepared by War Crimes Teams, mainly at Belsen, during the investigations which followed the liberation. Their use is a feature which distinguishes the trial from any other to which all English lawyer is used, and this fact and their number make it necessary to say something about them.
As a general rule, no affidavit was used when the deponent was available to give evidence in person. The affidavits came into being in this way. Members of the War Crimes Teams - mostly with police experience in civil life - took round the camp at Belsen a set of photographs of suspects, and showed them to internees, and then took statements from any of the internees who could recognise any of the suspects and wished to testify for or against them. These statements were later put into the form of affidavits and sworn by the deponents. Translation was done by competent interpreters attached to the War Crimes Team, many of whom had been prisoners themselves. Each War Crimes Team had at least one officer with legal qualifications, before whom the affidavit was sworn, and who took such steps as were possible to test the credibility of the deponent.
The accused were seldom present when the statements were taken or the affidavits sworn; identification therefore usually depended upon the photographs. It will be observed that the affidavits are not always precise in their allegations, and it was no doubt difficult to tie the deponents down to specific occasions and acts. Prisoners who had lived so long in such bestial conditions could hardly be expected to be precise, or to have accurate memories of details or of the passage of time. None the less, this understandable vagueness detracts from the value of many of these affidavits.
There can be no doubt that the use of the affidavits was necessary, owing to the impossibility of procuring the attendance of many witnesses and to the death of others. But some degree of caution must be exercised in their use as evidence. They depended for their efficacy upon a photographic identification; there was considerable danger of a deponent fixing a true incident upon the wrong accused; there was seldom any internal detail from which the value of the affidavit could be deduced; there was no opportunity of cross - examination. In short, there was room for error - unintentional, but unverifiable - to creep in. So, while it must be agreed that the use of affidavit evidence was necessary in the peculiar circumstances of the case, the experience of the trial would seem to confirm the wisdom of the English Law, which, as a general rule, prohibits the use of such evidence in criminal cases.
The language of the Court was English, and all evidence was interpreted answer by answer. Certain of the Polish accused spoke no German, so that interpretation was necessary in both languages. In those cases where a witness spoke another language the evidence had to be interpreted into English, German and Polish. The speeches and submission of Counsel were not interpreted; but the President was insistent in requiring an explanation to be given to the accused when any such submission had been made and not translated.
Most of the accused availed themselves of their right to give evidence on oath on their own behalf. This is a feature of the procedure common in English but unusual in Continental systems, and caused surprise to some of the accused, and particularly to the Poles.
Other evidence admitted under the Regulation were two films, of Belsen and of Auschwitz. The film of Belsen was taken shortly after the liberation and was useful in giving an idea of the chaotic conditions prevailing, and in particular of the emaciation of the internees, and of the vast number of corpses lying about the camp. The film of Auschwitz was taken by the Russians, and was of less value, especially as it was difficult to relate particular scenes in the film to places mentioned in the evidence. The reader can observe for himself from the photographs reproduced in this volume the appalling and tragic appearance the camp and its inmates presented.
The Court also paid a visit to Belsen, Camp No. 1 of which had by then been destroyed. But the view was of value in giving an idea of distance and of general lay-out. It made more clear the difference between No. 1 Camp and No. 2 Camp. The country there is sandy and undulating, and well wooded with pines. Near the village of Bergen-Belsen is the Wehrmacht Barracks (also called the Panzer School and the Truppenübungsplatz). It was at the edge of these barracks, and in some of the outer buildings, that Camp No. 2 was established shortly before the end of the war. Conditions there were, comparatively at least, never very bad; and the signs of filth and squalor had been removed before the Court paid their visit. Camp No. 1, or Belsen proper, was about two kilometres away, hidden among the pines and surrounded by wire. The barracks were occupied by the Wehrmacht and none of its amenities - food, hospital, doctors and so on - were made available to the prisoners in the concentration camp. Whether the Commandant, Kramer, could have obtained the use of any of these amenities for the prisoners had he wished to do so, and whether he in fact did attempt to do so, is a matter of dispute discussed in the evidence at the trial. This much at least is clear, that in fact the prisoners never at any time enjoyed any of these amenities.
During the trial the accused wore numbers to enable the Court to identify them. At the request of the Defence, these numbers were removed when any question of identification was likely to arise. For similar reasons the accused were allowed on occasions to change their seats in the dock, so as to prevent any possibility of a witness being able to identify them by knowing the order of seating.
Two maps, one of Belsen and one of Auschwitz, were produced at the trial. The map of Auschwitz was roughly drawn, and not of great value. The map of Belsen was better, and adequate to show the general lay - out; it has been reproduced in this volume.
It has been the object of this book to put before the reader a complete transcript of the evidence which was given, and of the arguments and speeches which were delivered; so that, having read it, he might be in a position to judge for himself the conditions in these camps, the guilt or innocence of the accused, and the merit or otherwise of the trial. But it has not been possible to compress the proceedings of 54 days within a single volume without some omissions and condensation.
In the first place, it has been necessary to omit many of the exhibits, such as the films, and various documents whose interest is less than their length; it is not thought that their absence will be any handicap in appraising the trial. So far as the evidence of witnesses goes, the question and answer of examination - in - chief has been turned into the form of a connected statement; the same has been done for cross-examination, except where the form of question and answer is desirable to bring out the point at issue. Short passages in the evidence have been omitted where they are either mere repetition or do not contribute more or less directly to the matters in issue. Similar omissions have been made in the case of evidence which goes to a point already well covered, as for example Bormann's dog. The evidence of certain witnesses has been omitted altogether. Where this has been done it is for the same reason, and in each case the name of the witness occurs in its proper place in the trial.
The affidavits have been treated in the same way so far as omissions and condensation is concerned. To save space the jurat and translation certificates have been omitted, and the affidavits have been printed in an appendix.
Speeches of Counsel have usually been summarised in order to save space, but it is thought that nothing material has been omitted. The speeches of Colonel Backhouse, Major Winwood and Colonel Smith have been given at greater length, as between them they embrace the main points made on either side. The summing-up of the Judge Advocate has been considerably reduced. It lasted for two and a half days, and it is natural that the greater part of it should have been devoted to a summary of the evidence concerning each accused. Most of this has been omitted, and only those parts are reproduced which deal with questions of law and with the general principle of responsibility upon which he advised the Court to base their decision.
Objections to the admissibility of evidence have been omitted. They take up a good deal of space, and it is not thought that they add anything to an appreciation of the trial. But where all objection to all affidavit has been upheld in part, the offending sentence or paragraph has been deleted. Within these limits, the complete evidence and speeches are transcribed ill the order in which they occurred at the trial.
Subject to the handicap, therefore, of not having seen the witnesses and the accused and been able to assess their appearance and demeanour, the reader is in almost as good a position as the Court to judge of the matters in issue and to form his own opinion. The main difficulty in following the evidence is probably the dichotomy of the trial by the two charges, and the large number of the accused. As has been said, the latter varied greatly in importance and function, and also in the volume of direct evidence adduced against them. The result is that the evidence concerning a particular accused is often scattered throughout the trial; and at times one is almost confronted by the spectacle of a trial within a trial whilst particular matters are being dealt with which only affect certain accused. The simplest way in which to remind oneself of what has been said about a particular accused is to read the speech of his defending officer, where the main matters will be found summarized.
In order to assist, in part at least, in overcoming these handicaps it has been thought worth while to add a short summary of the main divisions into which the accused fall, and a description of the appearance, demeanour and bearing of a few of the principal characters amongst them.
There were in the dock 16 male members of the S.S. Of these, three held the most important positions: Kramer, Camp Commandant; Dr. Klein, Camp Doctor; and Hoessler, Compound Commandant and in charge of Camp No. 2 at Belsen. The remainder (Weingartner, Kraft, Klippel, Francioh, Egersdorf, Kulessa, Mathes, Stofel, Otto, Pinchen, Dorr, Shreirer and Barsch) were mostly conscripts, and held subordinate positions, such as being in charge of working parties, kitchens and ration stores. Only Kramer, Klein and Hoessler were officers; the others - were mostly N.C.Os.
There were also 16 female members of the S.S. The most important were Grese who commanded a compound, and Volkenrath, who acted as Oberaufseherin, and so allotted duties to the others. The remainder (Bormann, Ehlert, Ilse Forster, Ida Forster, Opitz, Klein, Bothe, Walter, Haschke, Fiest, Sauer, Lisiewitz, Hempel and Hahnel) were mostly employed upon duties of a minor administrative kind, such as that of being in charge of a cookhouse, wood-store, bread-store, garden, various Kommandos and so on. They were mostly conscripts, having worked in factories and been appointed to supervise the slave labour allotted to their factories. Consequently, when Aufseherinnen were required for the camps, they formed a readily available reserve of trained supervisors, and were naturally picked for the work.
The remaining 12 accused were themselves prisoners, 7 male and female, who were alleged to have taken office as Kapos and then to have ill-treated their fellow prisoners. Of these 12, 6 were Poles. Almost all these Kapos had served for a considerable time as ordinary prisoners before being "promoted." It is not possible to deal with the characteristics of each individual accused, but instead it is proposed to say something of a few of the principal ones.
Kramer was presented to the world by the press as the "Beast of Belsen," and depicted in caricatures in the Shape of a shambling gorilla - a sadistic beast in human form thirsty for the blood of his tortured victims. In his own defence he presented himself as the fanatical Nazi, zealous in the cause of his Führer and quick to obey the orders of his superiors, however outrageous they might be. Probably neither of these pictures is wholly accurate, and the truth is to be found somewhere between the two: for though an obedient member of the Party, he does not seem to have concerned himself much with its doctrines; and though quite unmoved by the dreadful fate of his victims, he does not seem to have taken any personal pleasure in their sufferings.
Finding himself unemployed in 1932, he joined the S.S., not for any ideological reasons but in order to get a job. The job which he got was in the concentration camp service, and in it he remained until his arrest by the Allies. From time to time he was promoted, and no doubt was marked down by his superiors as a Commandant prepared to execute any order, however shocking to ordinary ears, with the greatest unconcern. His type was that of the perfectly obedient underling with no scruples of any kind. If 500 men were ordered for execution at 0900 hours, they would be there to the minute and to the man, not a man too few nor a minute late. But this efficiency and the acts to which it led him sprang from his desire to keep a safe, comfortable job, rather than from any deep-rooted Nazi conviction. In the dock, at least, his appearance was not that of a brute though his features were coarse and his figure short and broad; and he seemed to derive considerable amusement both from the gorilla caricatures and from some of the more imaginative stories about him which appeared in the newspapers at the time of the trial. It was incongruous to observe such evidences of human emotion in a man guilty of crimes as inhuman as his.
Presumably, the worst that could be said against Kramer was said at the trial. There will not be found much evidence of personal cruelty on his part or of his delight in the cruelty of others; it is rather that he had an almost unbelievable disregard for the sufferings of his prisoners. It would seem that these things did not actively please him; they just did not make any impression upon him at all; they were all part of the day's work. Thus at Auschwitz he supervised the gassing of thousand upon thousand of innocent prisoners, having probably been transferred to this camp on account of the specialized knowledge he had acquired at Natzweiler of the gas chamber technique. And at Belsen he stood by while tens of thousands were dying of starvation. There is a conflict in the evidence as to whether he took any steps to improve the condition of this camp, and as to whether the letter which he claimed to have written to Glücks at Oranienburg, complaining of the state of affairs and asking for assistance, is genuine or not. The evidence is before the reader, who may judge for himself. At least it is clear that conditions at Belsen could not have been worse. Perhaps no sadist in the true sense, Kramer may well be pictured as a model of criminal unconcern.
Dr. Klein was one of the very few amongst the prisoners who was an educated man. A German - speaking Rumanian of German origin, he was trained at Budapest. He eventually became an army doctor, and by stages drifted into the S.S., where he was employed as a doctor in various concentration camps - of all places in the world, perhaps the most terrible in which a conscientious doctor could find himself. But Dr. Klein was not conscientious, and he performed the work of selection for the gas chambers which was demanded, and in silence and without protest did all that was asked of him. Yet there were certain redeeming features in his character. There is almost no evidence of ill-treatment by him personally. And when he came to give his evidence, which he did with the restraint of an educated man, he admitted all that he had done, frankly and openly, and only attempted to excuse it by the plea that those were his orders, and that it had been a question of his life or those of his victims. Certainly no excuse, but at least an admission of a degree of conscience.
Hoessler, in charge of Camp No. 2 at Belsen, was a long-standing member of the Party. He was mainly concerned with Auschwitz, where he had been a Lagerführer. He took a very important part in the gas chamber selections and shepherded the victims with complete unconcern to the block where they were collected prior to the gassings. He stood on the platform to meet the incoming trains, and assisted in loading into trucks those selected by the doctor for consignment to the gas chamber. He denied active participation in the actual selections, but many thousands of innocent people passed through his hands on their way to extermination. In the case of both Dr. Klein and Hoessler the main question which the Court had to decide was the responsibility of the accused for the gas chamber killings. They were not much concerned with other allegations of brutality or killing.
The third accused, Peter Weingartner, a Yugoslav member of the S.S., was in charge of a particularly severe Kommando, at Auschwitz, called "Vistula." He had over 1000 women internees working under his care, and he exercised the utmost brutality in controlling their lives of drudgery and toil. Many of them desperately ill, they had to climb up a long hill to reach their work, and Weingartner deliberately set the guard dogs on to the stragglers to quicken the pace. He used the whip to get the forced labour out of his charges, and it was seldom that the working party returned without carrying several corpses to bear silent witness of his "care." He was universally hated and feared by the inmates of the camp. In his case the Court were mainly concerned in assessing the value of the evidence given, alleging against him individual brutality and killings.
Of the female prisoners the most notable and notorious was Irma Grese. Her youth, her appearance, and the stories about her made a favourite newspaper subject; and if little was lost in the telling, hers was certainly a remarkable case. Like others she had drifted into the S.S., but had started a good deal younger than most, and at the age of 19 found herself in charge of a compound of 18000 women - mostly Central Europeans who, understandably, were not of a very tractable disposition. She was the daughter of an agricultural worker in Eastern Germany. By reason of her age - she celebrated her twenty-first birthday during the trial - she received an early training in the Nazi way of life, and there can be no doubt but that she proved herself an apt pupil and accepted without question its teaching as to the inferiority of the Jews and Slavs. Her belief in the Nazi system was probably strengthened by her father's refusal to allow her to join the Bund Deutscher Mädchen, and by the whipping which she received from him when he discovered that she had joined the concentration camp service.
Believing these doctrines wholeheartedly, she put them into effect with enthusiasm and treated the prisoners in her charge accordingly. Armed with arbitrary power over the unfortunate internees, she used it not only to fulfil her role of Aufseherin, which included the duty of dispatching thousands to the gas chambers, but also to beat, to torment and to murder. And though some of the more lurid allegations against her may not be borne out by the evidence, there are enough, and more than enough, which stand uncontroverted. Her appearance was certainly striking. She was handsome rather than beautiful. But with her youth, her blond hair, broad forehead, firmly modeled nose, and blue defiant eyes she was one to remark. With other teaching capable of good, that her setting should have been the dock is a sad commentary upon human affairs. As an individual she paid with her life for her crimes - and justly so. But for her deeds, it is perhaps the Nazi system that made such things possible rather than the individual which should bear the maximum blame.
Like Grese, Volkenrath was comparatively young. She was the head Aufseherin and responsible for the actions of those under her as well as for allocating their duties. The allegations against her for her misdeeds at Auschwitz were so numerous that the authorities stopped collecting further evidence at an early stage of their enquiries. She, too, was ruthless. Kicking and beating, she casts her shadow over the whole story of the lives of the wretched internees. Her defence was mainly a flat denial of everything said against her.
Bormann, at the age of 52, was one of the oldest of the prisoners. Diminutive in stature and frail in appearance, it was difficult to believe the stories told of her; yet of their truth there can be no doubt. So many witnesses described how at Auschwitz she set her dog upon the prisoners and stood by while they were torn to pieces, so often was the same story repeated that after a while the first horror of the listener was dulled. That a sane person could watch innocent victims being rent in pieces by a do is difficult to understand. Yet no question as to her sanity arose; and she would seem to have been one of the few amongst the accused who took a personal and sadistic pleasure in the sufferings of her victims. It is a remarkable feature of the life and system at Auschwitz that such deeds as these of Bormann were tolerated and called forth no protest from her colleagues, or from those in command of the camp. In the case of Bormann and Volkenrath, as in that of Weingartner, the main question with which the Court were concerned was the truth or otherwise of the evidence brought before it. In these cases they were not much troubled with matters of responsibility; the question was a simple one of fact, for if what was alleged had indeed happened there could clearly be no defence.
Of the Aufseherinnen employed in humble posts about the camp, Charlotte Klein may serve as an example. Like most of them she was of no education, was employed in a factory, and progressed thence, via a foremanship of the slave labour working there, to the position of a full-blooded member of the S.S. At Belsen she had caught typhus, and as a result had lost her hair; and the resultant bedraggled appearance, coupled with a natural awe of the proceedings, made her a pitiful rather than formidable figure.
Of the Poles, it is necessary to mention two: Starostka and Koper. Starostka was a woman of some education, and the story which she tells is a fascinating one of intrigue and counter-intrigue. In appearance she was handsome and tall, and in other circumstances and clothes would have passed as distinguished. Koper was also educated, being a "Doctor of Music." It was she who provided the comic relief of the trial, and constituted herself the butt of the accused. Voluble, unreliable, given to dramatic gestures, she had been part prisoner, part Kapo and part informer, despised and hated by all. It is possible that her intellect was partially deranged as a result of the long years of her imprisonment. At all events, her evidence is to be considered with more than usual reserve.
There were some faces in the dock which seemed to contain all the generally accepted characteristics of the debased criminal type. These were mostly Kapos, such as Zoddel, who had usually started their concentration camp life as criminals. So far as the S.S. were concerned, there was really nothing (apart from their clothes) to distinguish most of them from their fellow citizens, and only a few had the appearance of an obviously criminal type. Indeed, it is strange to consider that such ordinary - looking persons could be guilty of such cruelty. If they bore the mark of the beast upon their faces, it was not easy to discern at the trial. The photographs of them are not a sure guide, for they were mostly taken shortly after the liberation, when they were unshaven and had recently been subjected to long questioning.
At the start most of the accused were suspicious of the proceedings, of the disinterestedness of the tribunal, and of the good intentions of their defending officers. It was only after a few days, and particularly after hearing cross-examination of the Prosecution witnesses, that they showed any confidence in the honesty of the proceedings. The very long trial must have been an ordeal for the accused. After the start the nervous tension no doubt relaxed, and then gradually increased when the hour for the passing of sentence drew near. With only one exception (that of Koper) the sentences were received with complete composure and unmoved demeanour. Many, of course, such as Kramer, must have known their fate from the start; but to most the issue was always in doubt. Whether this stoicism was the product of natural courage, Nazi discipline or innate wickedness is a nice question.
So much for some of the accused in detail. Before closing this Introduction it may be wise to say one word in general which applies equally to all the accused who feature in this trial. It must not be supposed that they were exceptional men and women peculiar to Auschwitz and Belsen. Such is not the case, and they are typical of their kind, whether S.S. or Kapos, who administered the many camps which spotted the face of Greater Germany. Nor must it be thought that they were few in numbers, for there were many thousands whose daily deeds were in no way different from those which are described in this trial. And just as these men and women were no different from their colleagues, so also were Belsen and Auschwitz ordinary camps but little different from a host of others. Indeed, difficult as it may be to realise, it would seem that even more terrible things were done at such places as Mauthausen, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, Maideneck, Dachau and Ravensbrück. It is enough to say that in these camps, on almost every day of the year, thousands of innocent men, women and children suffered and died.
There are some who are disinclined to believe that what has been told of concentration camps is true: for them the record is here in inescapable detail. There are others who defend and admire the Nazi regime: that it was capable of organizing such camps as these must be the ultimate condemnation of that, and of any similar, system of government. To read the evidence in this trial and to admire the methods of the men under whose rule such things happened should be impossible.
It is in the nature of human beings to forgive and to condone, and as time goes on to forget, and especially to forget that which it is unpleasant to remember. Perhaps the greatest value of the series of books of which this volume forms a part is that it provides a permanent record and reminder of the horrors of which mankind is capable when it is subjected to an evil form of government and ceases to be free.
It is not the purpose of this Introduction to comment upon the verdicts and sentences. Unfortunately, no reasoned judgment is delivered by a Military Court; thus, while it is possible to discover some idea of the decision arrived at on the points of law raised from the summing-up of the judge Advocate, there is no direct guidance available as to the basis of the findings. Some indirect light is thrown on the subject by comparing the sentences. Of the 44 accused in the dock at the end of the trial, 14 were acquitted. It is safe to assume that these were all found not guilty of personal brutality, and also not guilty of indirect responsibility for the general conditions. Of the remaining 30, 11 were sentenced to death. The balance of 19 were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment ranging from life to one year. As they were not sentenced to death, presumably the Court acquitted them of any personal killing. If this is the case, then the various sentences imposed may be assumed to be the Court's assessment of their measure of responsibility. By thus considering their sentences and the evidence against them, it is possible to form at least a rough idea of the basis upon which the Court reached their decision.
Much complaint was made at the time of the great length of the trial, by a public whose interest was in a spectacular example of retribution rather than a minute assessment of the evidence. Having regard to the two charges, the number of the accused and witnesses, the need for interpretation and cross-examination, and the multiplicity of the issues, it may be doubted whether much time was wasted. The reader may judge for himself.
This trial must always be of interest as being the first in which International Law was applied to such questions. Perhaps, as time passes, it will seem more noteworthy for the achievement of the British Legal System in refusing to be stampeded into the wild justice of revenge; and, at the end of a war, in bringing to the trial of its enemies, upon charges which had aroused the resentment and horror of humanity, a cool, calm, dispassionate and unhurried determination.