Transcript of the Notes of 'The Trial of Erich Zoddel'

The Trial of Erich Zoddel A Military tribunal in Celle 31 August 1945

General Court of Lüneburg Sitting at Celle
Case No 86

Original Document

Erich Zoddel

Members of the Court:

President: Major H.J. Parton - Barrister at Law Legal Member.
Member: Major A.G. Coulson - Barrister at Law.
Member: Major T.B. Flewitt - Solicitor.
Prosecutor: Captain TH.G. Sherrin - Solicitor.
Defence Counsel: B. Sander - Rechtsanwalt.
Interpreter: 13116612 Sgt. H.G. Corby (German)
Interpreter: Nonck Antham (Polish)


Murder contrary to the German Criminal Code Sec 211. At BELSEN Camp on or about the 18th April 1945 murdering Maria Konatkwicz by shooting


Not Guilty.

Case adjourned for 45 minutes owing to failure of President and one member to arrive, while arrangements made for appointment of new President and members.

No adjournment required by Defending Counsel.


Charge of murder - very simple case. Two eyewitnesses of the murder. One has returned to own country - other here today. Murder took place in Belsen camp few days after British arrived. Witness will prove murdered woman was apprehensive of Zoddel and that she saw Zoddel shoot the murdered woman. Affidavit of second witness is also that of an eyewitness.

First witness Yilka MALACHOWSKA sworn:

I am 19 years of age. I used to live at 19 Warszawska PLONSK, Poland. I have been nearly 5 years in concentration camps, of which 10 months were spent at BELSEN. I remember a girl called Maria. I remember her death, which took place after the British came - about 13 or 14 days afterwards. I was by building No 201 when her death took place, inside the building standing by the window. It was evening time. Maria was walking with a man, when Zoddel approached them, fired twice and Maria fell down. I identify Zoddel in Court. Maria was at that time walking in front of the building. Accused approached them from behind. He fired twice and Maria fell down. He had the pistol in his pocket. After he had fired, Maria fell to the ground. Her companion was wounded as well and was taken to the hospital. He did not fall down, but disappeared. I hurried out from the building and found Maria lying in a pool of blood in front of the building. She was dead. I could not stay there long, so I went away. I do not know exactly where she was hit but it was somewhere in the head. I did not see if she was hit elsewhere in her body, because she was taken away with her clothes on. Her body was covered with a blanket. I do not remember what day of the week this was. The day before, Maria had told me that Erich had threatened he would kill her, because he had fallen in love with her but she would not go out with him because he was a German and she a Pole.

Cross examined:

This incident occurred in the evening about 2130 to 2200 hrs. Maria was a forewoman in the toolstores. She was really a Polish Jew, but she was in Germany on false documents as a Russian. It was a clear evening.

No Re-examination.

Questioned by Court:

After accused had fired the shots, he disappeared. I did not see him run away, but he could not be found. He was wearing jack-boots, sports trousers and a coat with a number on it. I did not see him appearing before he fired the shots. I did not hear him say anything, as I was inside the building. I know him well - I know him as Erich. He wore the armband as chief (i.e. spokesman) of the inmates of the camp (Lagerälteste). He was a prisoner the same as we were. In the camp he usually called people by their Christian names. He was never a friend of mine. I knew him well, as I was working in the main part of the camp. He was several metres - I cannot say exactly how far - from the accused when he fired the shots. He produced the pistol out of the right hand pocket of his trousers - accused demonstrates. He appeared to take careful aim.

Second witness Dora SILBERBERG:

With consent of the Court, prosecutor produces affidavit of this witness sworn before Major CHAMPION, Legal Staff No 1 War Crimes Investigation Team. Copy of affidavit attached to record as Exhibit 'A', since original is required by War Crimes Investigation Team. This copy checked against original and found correct.


Applies to call two witnesses in Celle Prison who share same cell with accused: arrangements made for them to be brought before the Court.

First witness Robert John MOFFAT Junior, American, sworn:

I accompanied the accused on a visit to BELSEN Camp about two weeks ago. It seemed as if he had been a Kapo. When we reached BELSEN everyone crowded around him, and if we had not been there, they would have killed him. They said he had selected about 13000 to be taken away. One man wanted to come and tell the Court this.

No cross-examination

Josef ChudySecond witness Josef CHUDY (Polish) sworn:

I was in BELSEN Camp. I was a month and a half a Block Leader. I was not victimised by my position as a leader. The accused was Lagerälteste towards the end. People were looking for him because of the position he occupied. I do not know, when Maria was killed. I merely heard that a girl had been killed. I did not hear anyone say that the man with the girl was shot at.

No cross-examination.

BurgrafThird witness Mieczyslaus Burgraf (Pole) sworn:

I was in BELSEN Camp. I heard 2 shots when I visited a Polish girl in one hut. A girl rushed into the hut and said that the Russian girl, a Kapo, had been shot. I did not hear anything about the man with the girl being shot. It was 2255 when the shots were fired - I looked at the watch of the girl with me. It was dark, because the moon was not shining. I know the accused, because he is in the same cell with me and he has been talking to me about it. He said the incident took place about 1900 hrs, but I told him it was about 2300 hrs. I never knew the accused in BELSEN. I met him for the first time in CELLE.

No cross-examination

Erich ZoddelAccused Erich ZODDEL elects to testify:

Maria KONATKWICZ was my girlfriend at BELSEN Camp. She had been my girlfriend since April 12th. She was shot on April 18 between 2200 and 2300 hrs. She came to my house at 2100 hrs that night and I went with her to the camp. I was with her when the shots were fired. The shot were fired immediately outside her building - the first block on the right hand side when entering the main gate, in front of the block where she had been living. I do not remember its actual number.

I was coming from my house from the prisoners camp with Maria, walking in the direction of the canteen where there was a dance to which we wanted to go. Just as we arrived at the canteen, the lights went out. As we therefore could not dance, we went off to her block when a tall Russian - whose name I do not know - came up. He had a girl on his arm - I would not know her, but I would know him again. When he got near us, he pulled out a revolver pointed it at us and said: "That's the end now". Then he fired 2 shots, one of which struck me on the back of the neck and one killed Maria.

I lay on the ground next to her. The Russian ran into the block. The girl who had been with the Russian bent down, pushed me on one side and said to the Russian that I was dead. After they had gone, I got up and went to another block.

Someone was looking for me with an electric torch, so I went through the window and went to the toolstore where I gave myself up to the British. I told them the whole story. A Sgt took me to the Commandant to have my wound dressed. I had my clothes searched, I was put on a lorry and driven the BERGEN to an officer. He said it was "up to me", and released me at 0030 hrs. So I was driven back to BELSEN with 2 soldiers as a protective escort, and taken back to my block and ordered to report to the Commandant again the following day. I only remained there two more days. Then 2 soldiers and a Captain came and took me into custody - I do not know why.

That day I was dressed in blue trousers, a brown waistcoat of sheepskin and an overcoat. I was not wearing jackboots. I did possess a pair.

It was dark, and there was an air raid warning on. I was, at the end, Lagerälteste (spokesman) No 3 in the camp. I did not think I had any enemies - otherwise I would have been taken away on the day the SS were. The man in charge of my block told me not to walk out after dark because it would not be safe because the other inmates were hunting down Germans. Two others who worked with me in the kitchen had been killed the day before. It was impossible to leave the camp. One could have escaped through the wire fence - if bent on escaping - it was possible that way. After my arrest all the other Germans "beat it".

Cross examination:

I was shot before Maria. The Russian was standing by my side, about a yard away, when he shot me. As he was shot, he said: "That's the end now". Maria was by my side, with her arm resting in mine. We were about to enter the block. The Russian must have been walking behind us for some time; that is how he could know it was me, even though it was so dark. He was with a rather fat girl I did not know. I do not know which one of us he was trying to kill. The shot hit me on the back of the neck by the ear. (Accused shows scar.)

When I said "I gave myself up to the British", I meant I wanted to find protection - not that I had committed some crime. That is the expression used in Germany. When the officer said "It's up to you", he meant that the British authorities would deal with it. I am quite sure they said I could go. I was given an escort to protect me, so that nothing could happen to me on the way to my block. I was kept there in case they needed me for interrogation.

I spent the day in the block and the night in the former SS camp. Nobody would have dared to enter the building, because there were nine men in the one room. The other occupants were not all Kapos - they were, the man in charge of the block and the inmates allotted to that block. I thought I would be safe there. I remember a man called Carl, a gipsy. He was not hanged in his block.

No re-examination.

Questioned by the Court:

I was a dairyman. I do not know why I was picked out as a Lagerälteste. I admit I was present when Maria was shot and the witness MALACHOWSKA could have seen me there. I cannot explain why she said I had a pistol. The Russian was facing me when he fired the shots - (accused demonstrates position with aid of interpreter). Only two shot were fired. I do not know where about on the body Maria was shot. I was not seriously hurt myself - just loss of blood. I did not stay behind and look after her, as I was afraid of being shot again by the Russian. I did not look at Maria, to see how badly she was wounded. I just ran off, hoping to get help. Maria had already slept one night with me in the block. I cannot say when I first knew she had died. I did not know if she was dead. I learnt she was dead the following day about 100 hrs. Her body was taken away during the morning. A girl told me, while I was in bed the following morning. Maria and I wanted to leave the camp together. I was very fond of her. I do not remember exactly what she was wearing that night - a brown frock. The bullet struck the lobe of my ear. I met Maria before the British occupied BELSEN.

Third witness for prosecution, Major S.G. LYNCH R.A.M.C., sworn; called pursuant to R.P 10 (I) (e):

I have examined the accused. He told me the scar on his neck was the result of a bullet wound received on 18th April. I examined these scars with a view to discovering if this was true. On the lobe of the left ear was a scar. From the entrance of the left ear was a pussy discharge. Behind the left ear was another scar. This was a double scar. Further back on the neck, about 1 1/2 inches, was another small punched out scar. There was fibrous tissue deep in the ear lobe. On further examining accused's head, neck, and shoulders, I found several other small scars, consistent with previous attacks of boils. The scars on the neck could have been caused 2 months ago, but could have been 2 years ago - difficult to determine accurately.

If the scar had been caused by a bullet, the wound would have been so superficial that it would not have knocked the accused down or caused him to fall. One bullet could have caused all the scars behind his left ear. The 3 scars in question are in a straight line.

No cross-examination.

Fourth witness for prosecution Dr. Bernhard HARTUNG sworn, called pursuant to RP 10 (1) (e):

I am the prison doctor in Celle. I have examined accused's scars with a view to ascertaining how old the scars were. All I can say is that they are not fresh scars - they may be 2 months old, may be 2 years. I do not think these scars could be caused by a shot. I cannot prove the contrary, but I do not believe that is correct, because they are very superficial and are very similar to scars found on the necks of people left by boils. There are similar scars on other parts of his body caused by boils. They are, in my opinion, to superficial to have been caused by a bullet.

If they had been caused by a bullet, it is unlikely the wound would cause a man to fall down. There is no injury of the skull apparent underneath. I could not see any injury to any bone.

Cross examined:

I cannot be absolutely sure, these scars were not caused by a shot. It is impossible for the accused to have fallen to the ground as a result of such a shot, but he may well have thrown himself on the ground as a result of it. I cannot say if he would have received a shock as a result of this.

No re-examination.

Questioned by the Court:

It is likely that these scars could have been caused by ONE bullet, if they were the result of a bullet wound. The scars are not too high up the neck to have been caused by boils.

Prosecution sums up:

Values to be placed on evidence of witnesses depends whether they make honest statement i.e. one intended to be true. In the circumstances in which prosecution evidence given, necessary to assume statements were made honestly. Made in BELSEN Camp with view to investigation of war crimes. Affidavit tendered to Court has evidence of this killing merely in its third paragraph. First witness for defence told Court how accused said to be wanted for 13000 people's death. Evidence produced not a "frame-up". The time of this occurrence was immediately after liberation of BELSEN Camp - few of the inmates in good state of health. Conflict as to time body removed - but at BELSEN there were many bodies lying about; may have been moved but yet remained for considerable period in the Camp. Prosecution witness made good impression in Court.

Accused's story is that he was lying beside the body of the woman. If that were true, this case would have to have been fabricated by the two prosecution witnesses. If Court believes accused's story these two witnesses would have seen accused lying on the ground. Accused showed Court the position occupied by himself and the Russian alleged to have shot him. To cause a scar in that position one would have to hold pistol very high and level.

Too much "recognition" in accused's story, on the night in question i.e. Russian recognised accused and accused said he could recognise the girl again, yet according to him the incident took place late on moonless night in darkness.

According to doctors, scar caused by wound of nature alleged would not cause a man to fall to the ground. Yet accused not only says he fell to the ground, but the girl accompanying the Russian - according to the accused - looked at him and said: "He is dead". Scalp wounds bleed profusely - could have seen from bleeding that he was alive.

If Russian went out to kill accused, it is strange that he took a girl with him. From accused's description they were arm in arm when shots were fired. Admits many BELSEN inhabitants abnormal. Accused says he went to British police for "protection" at start of his story. Later on he used words applicable to arrest - "I gave myself up". States, after going to Military Government, that the Officer there "released" him. Also apparently contented to get back to his own block - a block of normal inmates. Accused has told the Court that the normal inmates were out to kill him. Also that a man was looking for him with a gun. His apparent confidence in his safety in that block is inconsistent with his story that his life was in danger.

Submit accused's story cannot be believed and that the evidence for the prosecution that accused murdered Maria should be accepted. Their story is born out by Maria's statement that she had refused to go with the accused. Before British came, accused was Lagerälteste - quite a useful man to keep with. When British had come, it was not any advantage to have been on the camp staff.

Defence sums up:

Accused put in difficult position by evidence of the 2 Polish witnesses. I believe both these witness did best to give an objective account of the incident. That does not rule out possibilities of mistake of identification. It was late at night - one witness says almost 2300 hrs. About this time the shots were fired and news of Maria's death arrived. Accused was present when the shots were fired, but he was not behind Maria but at her side. Behind her was the Russian. Polish witness said man accompanying Maria was shot at - this person, if it was not accused, has never come forward. Hence one must deduce it was accused who accompanied Maria. Accused still shows the scars caused by this bullet.

His later behaviour also proves he was not the murderer. After shot fired, he fell on the ground. Dr. HARTUNG said this could have been through the shock received. Still possible the woman accompanying the Russian had lifted his arm to see if he was dead. Later accused ran off, afraid that Russian might fire at him again, if he found accused was not really dead. The two prosecution witnesses did not mention this - this is explained by fact they did not leave their house immediately.

Fact that accused went to British soldiers afterwards is decisive - that is not the action of a murderer, who would try to escape punishment. Would not have been difficult for him to escape through the wire fence. Why should he have shot Maria - she was his mistress. If Maria told one of the witnesses she wanted to break off relations with accused, this supports his story. She may have done so, to cover up her relations with accused. Nearly whole of camp united against accused.

When I went with accused to BELSEN to look for witnesses, I was amazed at size of escort. Later on I was glad of its size, otherwise I would not have been able to bring back accused alive. Witness MOFFAT so testified.

For these reasons I am sure it was someone else who shot Maria, and not accused.

Position of scars not unnaturally high. Shots which struck Maria struck her at same height. This too makes it probable they were walking together.

Accused did not shoot at all. But if he had shot, Court must also be satisfied with proof of his intention to kill. Must find out if he planned the deed. If no such plan, he cannot be a murderer - but would be manslaughter according to Sec 212 StGB. No evidence yet produced as to plan - no intention to kill. Might have wanted to frighten her, possibly because she had left him. If no intent to kill, must apply Sec 226.

Intention to cause bodily harm excludes the intention to kill. Such points need not be applied, because I submit accused not guilty of firing any shots.

Major Parton's Note (Verdict):

This is a case in which there is direct conflict of evidence both as to time and as to identification. The Court having seen and heard the first witness for the prosecution, having considered the circumstances under which the affidavit of the second witness for the prosecution was made and having seen and heard the accused, finds the accused IS GUILTY of the offence charged (unanimous verdict)

Prosecution bearing on sentence:

Prosecutor himself concerned in investigations made at BELSEN in early days. From evidence obtained by him personally, understood that accused was one of the people who made BELSEN what it was. He is alleged to have said himself that he was a professional criminal - a thief then - such types used as overseers at concentration camps.

Defence bearing on sentence:

Leaves it to the Court to fix the sentence, but begs Court to take into consideration the conditions prevailing at BELSEN Camp.