Excerpts from The Belsen Trial
- Opening Statement and Charges
- Testimony concerning Water and Food
- Testimony of Josef Kramer
- Testimony concerning Auschwitz
- Testimony of and concerning Irma Grese
Part 1 of 5:
Opening Statement and Charges
Excerpts from The Trial of Josef Kramer and 44 others: The Belsen Trial, Edited by Raymond Phillips, M.C., M.A., B.L.C. (Oxon.), Barrister-at-Law, William Hodge and Company, London, 1949.
There were two charges Kramer was under during the trial (pp. 4-5):
COMMITTING A WAR CRIME IN THAT THEY
At Bergen-Belsen, Germany, between 1st October, 1942, and 30th April, 1945, when members of the staff of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the persons interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of Keith Meyer (a British national), Anna Kis, Sara Kohn (both Hungarian nationals), Heimech Glinovjechy and Maria Konatkevicz (both Polish nationals), and Marcel Freson de Montigny (a French national), Maurice Van Eijnsbergen (a Dutch national), Maurice Anvlenaar (a Belgian national), Jan Markowski and Georgej Ferenz (both Polish nationals), Salvatore Verdura (an Italian national), and Therese Klee (a British national of Honduras), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, and physical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particularly to Harold Osmmund le Druillenec (a British national), Benee Zuchermann, a female internee named Korperova, a female internee named Hoffmann, Luba Rormann, Isa Frydmann (all Polish nationals) and Alexandra Siwidowa, a Russian national and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.
COMMITTING A WAR CRIME IN THAT THEY
At Auschwitz, Poland, between 1st October, 1942, and 30 April, 1945, when members of the staff of Auschwitz Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the prisoners interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of Rachella Silbersein (a Polish national), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, and physical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particualrly to Ewa Gryka and Hanka Rosenwayg (both Polish nationals) and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.
From the opening speech for the Prosecution (Colonel Backhouse speaking, p. 21):
So far as one knows, Belsen was originally a small camp, a transit camp, but at the end of November of last year Josef Kramer, who had been in the concentration camp service throughout the period of Nazi ascendancy, having joined as a volunteer in 1932, was called to Berlin. He had been the commander of a portion of Auschwitz. In Berlin he saw the head of the concentration camp service and was told that Belsen was to become a convalescent camp for sick persons from concentration camps, factories, farms, displaced persons from the whole of northwest Europe. He was told to go and look at the camp and if he found any difficulties he was to report back. He went there, and from 1st December he was the Kommandant of the camp and in sole charge. There were no standing orders from Berlin; the administration was left to him, and the Prosecution will ask you to say that he is primarily responsible for everything that happened in that camp. He was assisted by an officer in charge of administration, who I regret is not before the Court, by a criminal investigation officer, a doctor, a dentist, and the rest of his staff, apart from the guard commander who did not come directly under him, were Warrant Officers and N.C.O.s of the S.S. numbering some 60 to 70.
Backhouse continues (p. 24):
That is the picture of what Belsen was like. It may be that it will be put to you that what was happening was that transports full of people were coming in from other camps, that they were over-run and it was impossible to get food owing to the British having smashed up the transport. Kramer says he did everything he could to try to provide food for these poor people, to try and provide water for them and to see to their health and well-being. You will hear Major Birnie [Burney], who arrived on the 15th of April with Colonel Taylor. The next morning he went off to a Wehrmacht camp which was about a mile up the road and saw the quartermaster. You will hear that is where the food for the concentration camp came from. Kramer will tell you that the reason he could not get food was because it came from Celle and Hanover, but it in fact came from the Wehrmacht Camp. In that camp there was any amount of food which could have been distributed to these poor people. Kramer, of course, says that it was impossible to get bread, but he tried his best. You will hear of a fully stocked bakery in the Wehrmacht Camp with a terrific grain supply and capable of turning out 60,000 loaves a day which it did immediately afterwards and continued to do so with the same staff and from the same stock of grain.
There were vast quantities of medical supplies which have not been exhausted yet. You will hear that in the administration block in No. 1 Camp there were about 100 wooden boxes of tinned milk and meat which were in S.S. quarters marked “Hungarian.” They were Red Cross parcels which had been sent to the Hungarian internees by the Hungarian Red Cross and had been stolen by the S.S. guards. With regard to the water supply, although the camp had been without water for from three to five days and that all there was were these foul concrete tanks with bodies in them, as soon as somebody started to try and do something, within two days, with the equipment which was already in that camp and with no addition to it, there was an adequate working water supply laid on to every kitchen, and within five days, with the assistance of only the local fire brigade, there was a complete and proper water system running throughout the camp. So much for the story that this was a breakdown of organization due to war conditions. You will hear that there was nothing lacking to provide full water and sanitation in that camp had anybody wanted to do it at all.
Backhouse continues (p. 30):
If you are satisfied on the evidence that these conditions did exist in Belsen and in Auschwitz, then the Prosecution have amply made out a case against each one of those prisoners who took an active part at either of those camps, however small it may be.
Part 2 of 5:
Testimony concerning Water and Food
From the testimony of Vice-Director of Medical Services Brigadier Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughs (pp. 31-34):
- What water supply was there?
- — The huts had had water laid on but it was not functioning, and in addition there were large concrete ponds in the camp near the cookhouses.[…]
- Would you describe in your own words the general state of the camp?
- — […] There were various sizes of piles of corpses lying all over the camp, some outside the wire and some in between the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse… . The gutters were full and within the huts there were uncountable numbers of bodies, some even in the same bunks as the living… Some of the huts had bunks but not many, and they were filled absolutely to overflowing with prisoners in every state of emaciation and disease. There was not room for them to lie down at full length in each hut. In the most crowded there were anything from 600 to 1000 people in accommodation which should only have taken 100.[…]
- What was the state of sanitation?
- — There was none. The conditions were indescribable because most of the internees were suffering from some form of gastro-enteritis and they were too weak to leave the hut. The lavatories in the huts had long been out of use. In the women’s compound there was a deep trench with a pole over it but no screening or form of privacy at all. Those who were strong enough could get into the compound: others performed their natural functions from where they were. The compounds were absolutely one mass of human excreta. In the huts themselves the floors were covered, and the people in the top bunks who could not get out just poured it on to the bunks below.
- Now take the women’s compound?
- — No. 2 was on the same side as those three I have described, to the left of the camp. This, although small, had about 6000 in it. The conditions were infinitely worse. They were absolutely frightful. No. 1 Compound was a very large and contained between 22 and 23,000 women. The huts were set amongst trees and conditions were frightful, but perhaps not as bad as No. 2 Women’s compound. In this compound there was a very large pile of corpses.
- Was there any particular hut in that compound which you could describe?
- — In Hut No. 208, which was close to the pile of corpses, there were dead women lying in the passage, which was so full that no women could lie down straight. The main room on the left of the passage was one mass of bodies and you could not get another into it. The inmates were in a state of extreme emaciation and women were dying frequently.[…]
- Could you give details of the medical supplies?
- — There were quite a few large stocks in the store, but one issue, I was told by the chief doctor there, was 300 aspirin tablets for 17,000 sick people for one week. I do not think there were any large quantities of disinfectant available and no anti-louse powder issued. I found a large number of Red Cross boxes sent by Jewish Associations for the Jews. I was told that no issue of the contents had been made except an occasional issue of sweets to the children. The boxes contained meat extracts and food of all kinds, biscuits, milk. There was some stealing of meat by the Hungarian soldiers while I was there.
- What was the food supply in the camp?
- — At the time of entry practically nil — at the most, one meal a day of watery stew made of vegetables.
- What was the method of distribution?
- — In large metal containers which were very heavy. There had been no bread for a fortnight and no water for rather a shorter time, and there appeared to be absolutely no method of ensuring that each person got their share. When a man or woman got too weak to fetch for themselves and their friends became indifferent through their own condition, then they got none.[…]
- In your considered opinion for what period at the least must conditions have been bad in that camp to have produced the results that you saw?
- — Including the last five or six days it would take several months to produce death in people who were fit and well. What the condition of the prisoners was who were admitted I do not know, but if they were not robust it would have been a matter of a short time. But I should have said, with reasonable health, two or three months.
Testimony from Major Berney (pp. 54-55):
- What was the position in relation to water when you arrived?
- — There was none except in what I took to be emergency water reserve tanks. In the concentration camp area there were three tanks and in the S.S. administration portion there was one. The water in the tanks in the concentration area was completely foul, and as an immediate emergency measure some army water-carts were sent in. To restore the water supply we utilized the fire pumps and hose which we found inside the camp to pump water from a river to the camp itself. It took about four or five days after we entered. We found enough materials to complete a working water supply throughout the camp.[…]
- Did you have any expert advice that was not available to the Germans with regard to the water supply?
- — We pumped the water from the river, using S.S. men. Later a R.E.M.E. Major arrived to help to get the water supply working. The water in the river was fit to drink.
Major Berney is questioned by the Judge Advocate (p. 56):
- Can you tell us whether the water-supply system erected by you which was made from local materials was capable of lasting for some time or was it very temporary?
- — It would have lasted, and did last, for some time.
Part 3 of 5:
Testimony of Josef Kramer
At this point begins the Belsen conditions as Kramer saw them.
Josef Kramer is questioned by his defense council, Major Winwood (pp. 157-158):
- When you arrived at Auschwitz who was the Kommandant of the whole camp?
- — Obersturmbannführer Hoess. It was a very large camp and was subdivided into Camp Nos. 1, 2 and 3. I was Kommandant of Camp No. 2, Birkenau.
- Will you explain to the Court how it is that, in the first statement you made, you said the allegations referring to gas chambers, mass executions, whipping and cruelty were untrue?
- — There are two reasons for that. The first is that in the first statement I was told that the prisoners alleged that these gas chambers were under my command, and the second and main reason was that Pohl, who spoke to me, took my word of honour that I should remain silent and should not tell anybody at all about the existence of the gas chambers. When I made my first statement I felt still bound by this word of honour which I had given. When I made the second statement in prison, in Celle, these persons to whom I felt bound in honour — Adolf Hitler and Reichsführer Himmler — were no loner alive and I thought then that I was no longer bound.
- Did Kommandant Hoess say anything to you about the gas chambers?
- — I received a written order from him that I had nothing to do with either the gas chambers or the incoming transports. The Political Department which was in every camp had a card index system of prisoners and was responsible for personal documents and for any sort of transports or incoming prisoners. At Auschwitz the Political Department was also responsible for all the selections from incoming transports for the gas chamber. In the crematorium the S.S. and prisoners — Sonderkommando — were under the command of the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Hoess. As the place where the transports generally arrived was in the middle of my own camp I was sometimes present at their arrival. The people who took part in supervising and who were responsible for the security were partly from Auschwitz No. 1, and partly from my own camp at Birkenau, but the selection of these people who had to supervise was done by the Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1. The actual selections of the internees were made only by doctors. Those who were selected for the gas chambers went to the different crematoria, those who were found to be fit for work came into two different parts of my camp, because the idea was that in a few days they were to be re-transferred to different parts of German for work.[…]
- What did you think of the whole gas chamber business?
- — I asked myself, “Is it really right about these persons who go to the gas chambers, and whether that person who signed for the first time these orders will be able to answer for it?” I did not know what the purpose of the gas chamber was.
Now on to his cross-examination by Major Backhouse (p. 174):
- I suggest to you that you went on lying about the gas chamber until you were shown a photograph which had been taken of one at Natzweiler, and that was the first time you admitted the existence of such a thing?
- — It was not so, because between the two statements I was not asked any more.[…]
- What was the purpose of the Natzweiler camp?
- –To let prisoners work in a quarry near by?
- Were the prisoners not regularly supplied from that camp to Strasbourg for experiments?
- Was there no gas chamber there before you arrived?
- — No.
- Was it constructed under your instructions and did you quite deliberately gas 80 prisoners in that gas chamber?
- –Yes, on the orders of Reichsführer Himmler.[…]
- Did you force these people into the gas chamber yourself?
- — Yes.
- Did you actually put the gas in yourself and watch them inside as they died through a peephole you had made?
- — No.[…]
- Did you not describe that the women continued to breathe for about half a minute?
- — One could hear that. It was not necessary to observe.
- Were you not chosen as Kommandant of Birkenau because you had proved yourself willing to do this sort of thing?
- — No, I do not think so, because I got a special order that I had nothing to do with either crematoria or transports.
- When Kommandant Pohl demanded your word of honour not to talk about the gas chambers, why was it that you could not tell anybody if it was all legally proper and above board?
- — I do not know. Nothing could be said about concentration camps in the outside world.[…]
- Was the purpose of the gas chambers not a part of the determination of your Party to try and exterminate the Jewish race and all the intelligent people of Poland?
- — I do not know.[…]
Kramer, under questioning about Belsen by the Prosection’s Colonel Backhouse (p. 178):
- Did you watch these people slowly starving and dying?
- — Yes. That is to say I did not look at it, but I saw from the daily reports how many people were dying every day.
- Did you see these people gradually dying of starvation and thirst?
- — Yes, I mentioned these facts in my letter to Glücks.
- And in spite of the fact that these people were starving and dying you ordered them out to Appell? [roll call]
- — Not the sick people.
- Are you seriously suggesting that two doctors could certify the sick in that camp?
- — With these two doctors there were a certain number of doctors coming from the prisoners themselves. It is not my fault that I did not get any more S.S. Doctors.
- Is it true that these people stood for hours on Appell fainting and being left where they lay in the snow?
- — It is not true. With the arrival of so many transports it was practically impossible to hold roll-calls, and at the utmost only two roll-calls were held each week.
- How far was the river from the camp?
- — 400 to 500 metres.
- Why did you not pump water from the river?
- — I had no apparatus or material.
- Do you know that British troops did it with the material that was in the camp?
- –Perhaps in the Wehrmacht barracks, but not in my camp.
- Did you ever march some prisoners down to the river and let them get a drink?
- –No, I was told that the water was not fit for drinking. The pumps worked with other water.
- Do you know that is the water that has been used for the camp ever since?
- You were using water out of the concrete tanks in the camp. Do you know what filth was found in those cisterns?
- –No, I only know that when these ponds were pumped out for the first time there was dirt in them.
- Was the reason you did not go to the General and tell him exactly what was happening because you were frightened to tell any decent person what was going on in your camp?
- — No.
- There was a bakery in the Wehrmacht barracks capable of making 60,000 loaves a day. Do you not think that the General or any other decent person would have helped you with food if you had told them of the way in which these people were dying and shown them the living skeletons that were in your camp?
- — The General could not have helped me as the food that was in the stores could only be obtained by means of special indents and I could only get my food from civilian administration. He was not allowed to give me anything.
- Did you ever ask him?
- — No. The food that was stored there was only for the Wehrmacht and the only thing I received from them was 10,000 loaves every week.
- Did you not get vegetables from the Wehrmacht stores?
- –No, but Camp No. 2 received some.
- Is not the truth of the matter that you never tried in any way to help these people at all?
- — That is not true. I have written to the several firms to get additional food.
Kramer is questioned by the Judge Advocate (p. 181):
- When a Jew was gassed and cremated at Auschwitz was any official record made in the records of the country of that person’s death?
- — I do not think so. All these things were done by the Political department of Auschwitz No. 1.
Colonel Backhouse cross-examines Mrs. Rosina Kramer, the wife of Joseph Kramer (p. 183):
- You said that Hoess had been sent to Auschwitz for the incoming transports. what transports were these?
- — I believe these were the transports which were destined for the gas chambers.
- You knew about the gas chambers, then?
- — Everybody in Auschwitz knew about them.
Part 4 of 5:
Testimony concerning Auschwitz
Charles Sigsmund Bendel, sworn and examined by Colonel Backhouse concerning the Auschwitz camp (pp. 130-133):
- — I am a Rumanian doctor living in Paris and when I was arrested on 4th November, 1943, I had lived in France for 10 years. The reason for my arrest was because I did not wear the Star of David, the Jewish star, which I was forced to wear. I was taken to a camp called Drancy, near Paris, and then to Auschwitz on the 10th December, 1943, where I worked as a stone mason in a part of the camp called Buna. On the 1st of January, 1944, I was transferred to the main camp, and on 27th February, 1944, into the gipsy [sic] camp in Birkenau, where I worked as a doctor. The senior doctor was called Dr. Mengele. He was in charge of the whole medical side of that camp, particualrly infectious diseases in which Professor Epstein from Prague and myself assisted. Dr. Mengele engaged in the research of injections in the crematorium. These were injections which were supposed to produce instantaneous death, and in the gipsy camp he worked mainly on research tests against twins. He continued to make all sorts of tests on those twins, but it was not enough. He wanted to see them dead, to see what they looked like. When first I went to that camp there were 11,000 occupants, but at the end of July, 1944, 4300 had gone to the crematorium. Prior to that, 1500 had been selected for working parties and all the others had died of natural causes or some other sort of death in the camp. Those who went to the crematorium never left it alive — they were gassed.
- In June, 1944, was your employment changed?
- — Indeed it was changed. Dr. Mengele gave me the honour to attach me to the crematorium. the men who worked there were called Sonderkommando, a Special Kommando numbering 900. They were all deported people. Just as there existed Sonderkommando amongst the prisoners so there was a Sonderkommando also amongst the S.S. They enjoyed special privileges, for instance, in alcohol, and were completely separated from the other S.S. There were about fifteen S.S. in this Sonderkommando, three for each crematorium. The prisoners amongst the Sonderkommando lived in the camp in two blocks which were always locked, and were not allowed to leave them. […] At first I lived in the camp with the other prisoners, but later on in the crematorium itself. The first time I started work there was in August, 1944. No one was gassed on that occasion, but 150 political prisoners, Russians and Poles, were led one by one to the graves and they were shot. Two days later, when I was attached to the day group, I saw a gas chamber in action. On that occasion it was the ghetto at Lodz — 80,000 people were gassed.
- Would you describe just what happened that day?
- — I came at seven o’clock in the morning with the others and saw white smoke still rising from the trenches, which indicated that a whole transport had been liquidated or finished off during the night. In Crematorium No. 4 the result which was achieved by burning was apparently not sufficient. The work was not going on quickly enough, so behind the crematorium they dug three large trenches 12 metres long and 6 metres wide. After a bit it was found that the results achieved even in these three big trenches were not quick enough, so in the middle of these big trenches they built two canals through which the human fat or grease should seep so that work could be continued in a quicker way. The capacity of these trenches was almost fantastic. Crematorium No. 4 was able to burn 1000 people during the day, but this system of trenches was able to deal with the same number in one hour.
- Will you describe the day’s work?
- — At eleven o’clock in the morning the chief of the Political Department arrived on his motor cycle to tell us, as always, that a new transport had arrived. The trenches which I described before had to be prepared. They had to be cleaned out. Wood had to be put in and petrol sprayed over so that it would burn quicker. About twelve o’clock the new transport arrived, consisting of some 800 to 1000 people. These people had to undress themselves in the court of the crematorium and were promised a bath and hot coffee afterwards. They were given orders to put their things on one side and all the valuables on the other. Then they entered a big all and were told to wait until the gas arrived. Five or ten minutes later the gas arrived, and the strongest insult to a doctor and to the idea of the Red Cross was that it came in a Red Cross ambulance. Then the door was opened and the people were crowded into the gas chambers which gave the impression that the roof was falling on their heads, as it was so low. With blows from different kinds of sticks they were forced to go in and stay there, because when they realized that they were going to their death they tried to come out again. Finally, they succeeded in locking the doors. One heard cries and shouts and they started to fight against each other, knocking on the walls. This went on for two minutes and then there was complete silence. Five minutes later the doors were opened, but it was quite impossible to go in for another twenty minutes. Then the Special Kommandos started work. When the doors were opened the bodies fell out because they were compressed so much. They were quite contracted, and it was almost impossible to separate one from the other. One got the impression that they fought terribly against death. Anybody who has ever seen a gas chamber filled to the height of one and a half metres with corpses will never forget it. At this moment the proper work of the Sonderkommandos starts. They have to drag out the bodies which are still warm and covered with blood, but before they are thrown into the ditches they still have to pass through the hands of the barber and the dentist, because the barber cuts the hair off and the dentist has to take out all the teeth. Now it is proper hell which is starting. The Sonderkommando tries to work as fast as possible. They drag the corpses by their wrists in furious haste. People who had human faces before, I cannot recognize again. They are like devils. A barrister from Salonica, an electrical engineer from Budapest–they were no longer human beings because, even during the work, blows from sticks and rubber truncheons are being showered over them. During the time this is going on they continue to shoot people in front of these ditches, people who could not be got into the gas chamber because they were overcrowded. After an hour and a half the whole work has been done and a new transport has been dealt with in Crematorium No. 4.
- Have you seen any S.S. doctors there?
- — Yes, Dr. Klein on one occasion when the gas was being brought by the Red Cross ambulance. He came out from the seat near the driver. I have seen him also on other occasions.
Dr. Fritz Klein, SS doctor, is examined by his council, Major Winwood (p. 184):
- What happened to those people whom the doctors selected as unfit for work?
- — The doctor had to make a selection but had no influence on what was going to happen. I have heard, and I know, that part of them were sent to the gas chambers and the crematoria.[…]
- Was your work completed when you had divided the transports into fit for work and unfit?
- — Yes.
- Did you ever go down to the gas chamber yourself?
- — Yes, once, when it was not working. I had no duties to perform there.
- What was your personal opinion about this gas chamber business?
- — I did not approve, but I did not protest because it was no use at all.[…]
Klein is cross-examined by the Prosecution, Colonel Backhouse (pp. 186-187):
- Dr. Klein, you are an educated man and were educated at a non-German university. When you went to Auschwitz and found these transports of people being taken to the gas chambers and being killed, did you not realize that that was murder?
- — Yes.
- Is it not true that those who were not fit for work were simply destroyed?
- — Yes.[…]
- When the Hungarian transports arrived was the gas chamber working day and night then?
- — It might have been.
- Were they sent to the gas chamber?
- — I do not know exactly, but I believe so.
Examination, by the Prosecution, of SS member Peter Weingartner (p. 191):
- Were not the people who were selected for the gas chamber taken down the road right along the side of the women’s camp where you were working, to get to the crematoria?
- — Yes, I have seen people there, but whether they went to the bath-house or the crematorium I cannot say.
The examination of S.S. member Franz Hoessler (pp. 196-197):
- Did you have to attend selections for the gas chamber?
- — Yes, I attended these selections because I had to guard the prisoners. I did not make selections myself, and there were no selections without doctors.
- Will you explain exactly what happened when the transports arrived in the camp?
- — The transport train arrived at the platform in the camp. It was my duty to guard the unloading of the train and to put the S.S. sentries like a chain around the transport. the next job was to divide the prisoners into two groups, the women on the left, the men to the right. Then the doctors arrived, and they selected the people. The people who had been selected by the doctors and found to be fit for work were put on one side, the men and the women. The people who were found to be unfit for work had to go into the trucks, and they were driven off in the direction of the crematorium… . .[…]
- Did this mean that they [people in quarantine] were to be sent to the gas chamber?
- — No, but I believe that the witnesses must have thought that those people would come into this banned Block 25, which really did lead into the gas chambers.
Part 5 of 5:
Testimony of and concerning Irma Grese
Irma Grese, testifying for Major Cranfield, gives a brief history of her life (p. 248):
I was born on 7th October, 1923. In 1938 I left the elementary school and worked for six months on agricultural jobs at a farm, after which I worked in a shop in Luchen for six months. When I was 15 I went to a hospital in Hohenluchen, where I stayed for two years. I tried to become a nurse but the Labour Exchange would not allow that and sent me to work in a dairy in Fürstenburg. In July, 1942, I tried again to become a nurse, but the Labour Exchange sent me to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, although I protested against it. I stayed there until March, 1943, when I went to Birkenau Camp in Auschwitz. I remained in Auschwitz until January, 1945.
Let’s step back a few pages and see Irma Grese from the point of view of her sister, Helene, who was examined by Major Cranfield and cross-examined by Colonel Backhouse (pp. 247-248). Examination of Helene Grese:
- — I am the sister of Irma Grese, 20 years old, and live at Wrecken in Wreckensburg. My father was an agricultural worker, and I have two sisters and two brothers. My mother died in 1936. When she was 14 years old, my sister Irma worked on a farm of a peasant in a village near where we lived. From the time that she entered the Concentration Camp Service I saw her twice. In 1943 she came home on leave, and the only thing she told us about her work was that her duties consisted of supervising prisoners so that they should not escape. I saw her when she left Auschwitz in 1945, and she told me that she had been working for a considerable period in a sort of a post office, receiving and distributing mail, and that sometimes she had been detailed to guard duties.
- From your knowledge of your sister, do you think her a person likely to beat the prisoners under her charge?
- — No. In our schooldays when, as it sometimes happens, girls were quarrelling and fighting, my sister had never te courage to fight, but on the contrary she ran away.
Cross-examination of Helene Grese:
- When your sister went to work on the farm when she was 14, how long did she stay there?
- — About six months to a year.
- Where did she go from there?
- — She went to Hohenluchen as a sort of nurse, and then to a small dairy in Fürstenburg, where she worked, I believe, twelve to eighteen months.
- Did she go from there into the S.S.?
- — Yes, in 1942 she went to Ravensbrück, which was very near us.
- How long before 1943 was it since you had seen your sister?
- — In spring, 1942, when she was working in the dairy.
- When she came home in 1943, did your father give her a thrashing?
- — I did not see that, but he was quarrelling with ther because she was in the S.S.
- Did he forbid her to come to the house again?
- — I do not know. She never came again.
- Was not that because she told you what she did at Ravensbrück?
- — I do not know why.
- You would be 16 at that time; you never asked your sister what she was doing in the concentration camp, and she never told you?
- — She told us she was supervising the prisoners working inside the compound, and she had to see that they were doing their work well and that they did not escape. We asked her: “What do the prisoners get for food, and why have they been sent to a concentration camp?” and she answered that she was not allowed to talk to the prisoners and did not know what sort of food they got.
- Why did your father lose his temper with her?
- — Because he was very much against her being in the S.S. We all wanted to belong to the Bund Deutscher Mädchen, but he never allowed us to do so. I have not seen my father since April, 1945.
Irma Grese again, questioned by her lawyer Major Cranfield (pp. 249, 250-251):
- Did you carry a stick at Auschwitz?
- — Yes, an ordinary walking-stick.
- Did you carry a whip at Auschwitz?
- — Yes, made out of cellophane in the weaving factory in the camp. It was a very light whip, but if I hit somebody with it, it would hurt. After eight days Kommandant Kramer prohibited whips, but we nevertheless went on using them, I never carried a rubber truncheon.[…]
- Where did the order come from for what we call “selection parades”?
- — That came by telephone from a RapportFührerin or from Oberaufseherin Dreschel.
- When the order came were you told what the parade was for?
- — No.
- What were the prisoners supposed to do when the whistle went?
- — Fall in fives, and it was my duty to see that they did so. Dr. Mengele then came and made the selection. As I was responsible for the camp my duties were to know how many people were leaving and I had to count them, and I kept the figures in a strength book. After the selection took place they were sent into “B” Camp, and Dreshel telephoned and told me that they had gone to another camp in Germany for working purposes or for special treatment, which I thought was the gas chamber. I then put in my strength book either so many for transfer to Germany to another camp, or so many for S.B. (Sonder Behandlung). It was well known to the whole camp that S. B. meant the gas chamber.
- Were you told anything about the gas chamber by your senior officers?
- — No, the prisoners told me about it.
- You have been accused of choosing prisoners on these parades and sending them to the gas chamber. Have you done that?
- — No; I knew that prisoners were gassed.
- Was it not quite simple to know whether or not the selection was for the gas chamber, because only Jews had to attend such selections?
- — I myself had only Jews in Camp “C.”
- Then they would all have to attend the selection for the gas chamber, would they not?
- — Yes.
- As you were told to wait for the doctors you would know perfectly well what it was for?
- — No.
- When these people were parading they were very often paraded naked and inspected like cattle to see whether they were fit to work or fit to die, were they not?
- — Not like cattle.
- You were there keeping order, were you not, and if one ran away you brought her back and gave her a beating?
- — Yes.
Examination by her defense council (p. 251):
- The witness, Szafran, has accused you of beating a girl at Belsen with a riding crop about a fortnight before the British troops arrived, and also that at Auschwitz during a selection two girls jumped out of the window and you shot them while they were lying on the ground. Is that true?
- — I never shot at all at any prisoner.
Earlier, the Prosecution had examined D. Szafran (p. 85):
- Whilst you were at Auschwitz did you see any other persons beaten besides yourself?
- — I saw it very often when I was working in Kommando 103 and we were carrying loads of earth and coal. I have seen Kramer beat a person so often that I cannot really say how many times. I have see Grese do it in Auschwitz, and about a fortnight before the British troops liberated Belsen I saw her beat a girl in the camp. She had a pistol, but she was using a riding-crop. The beatings were very severe. If they were not the cause of death they were not called severe in the camp.
Grese’s council had cross-examined D. Szafran (p. 87):
- Do you remember telling us that you had seen Grese, No. 9, beating a girl in Belsen about a fortnight before the British troops arrived?
- — I remember it now, it was in the kitchen. Grese was not the kitchen Kommandant, she came there with the Lager Kommandant on inspection. She beat the girl with a riding whip made of leather.
- If I tell you that at Auschwitz Grese carried a stick and sometimes a whip, but that at Belsen she never carried either, are you sure that you are not confused over this incident?
- — In Auschwitz she wore a pistol and in Belsen she went about with a riding whip. She was one of the few S.S. women who had a permit to carry arms. I cannot say whether she was wearing a pistol at the time of this incident. Perhaps it is possible that by that time members were not allowed to carry arms.
Then, upon re-examination of this witness by the Prosecution (p. 90):
- You said that you could tell us of a good many more instances of Grese’s conduct?
- — Yes. In Camp A, Block 9, Blockälteste Ria and Hoessler and Dr. Enna, the prison doctor, made a selection for the gas chamber, and two selected girls jumped out of the window and Grese approached them as they were lying on the ground and shot them twice. She was always active in the camp gate making inspections and if any of the prisoners wore another sock or shoe or anything like that, he or she would be beaten up. I cannot remember with what she used to beat them because I had to stand at attention.
- You have been asked a good many questions about dates. Were you given calendars either at Auschwitz or Belsen?
- — No, but I remember very well because they were so terrible and ghastly.
We return to Irma Grese’s examination, by her own council (p. 251):
- The witness Stein told us that at selection in the summer of 1944 some prisoners tried to hide, but that you saw them, told somebody, and a woman was shot. It was suggested that the woman was shot by an S.S. man on guard. Had you any authority to issue orders to an S.S. guard?
- — No.
- The same witness alleged there was an incident when a mother was talking to her daughter over the wire between two compounds, that you arrived on a bicycle and beat the mother so severely that she was lying on the ground where you kicked her?
- — I do not deny that I beat her, but I did not beat her until she fell to the ground, and I did not kick her either.
Ilona Stein’s earlier cross-examination by Grese’s council (pp. 99-100):
- With regard to the incident you described of a woman being shot when trying to escape from a selection parade in Auschwitz, was she a Hungarian?
- — Yes.
- You described an incident when Grese arrived on a bicycle and beat another woman. did she beat her with her belt?
- — I do not know exactly what was in her hands, but I did see that she had something in them. I do remember, however, that I have seen Grese taking off her belt and beating prisoners with it.
- Was the body taken away on a stretcher by hand or was it taken away by something on wheels?
- — When somebody died, which happened in very many cases, he was simply put into a blanket and dragged away.
- Have you ever been beaten by Grese yourself?
- — No, not in the kitchen where I was working, but once when I was out on a working party Grese saw me talking to somebody through the barbed wire and she immediately started beating me.
- Did you see Grese beating a great many people a great many times at both camps?
- — I saw her more frequently doing this in Auschwitz than in Belsen.
- Was the reason you only had this one beating from her because you behaved yourself well?
- — I had not very great contact with her because, working in the kitchen, we were rather separated.
Ilona Stein’s deposition reads, in part (p. 747):
2. Whilst I was at Birkenau an S.S. woman named Irma Grese was responsible for many beatings, one murder and sending people to the gas chamber. I identify No. 2 on photograph Z/4/2 as Irma Grese. What I speak of I speak of to my own knowledge.
3. In July, 1944, I was working in the kitchen at Birkenau when I saw a woman, whose daughter was in an ajoining camp, go to the dividing wire in order to speak to her daughter. Grese, who was passing on a bicycle, immediately got off, took off her leather belt and beat the woman with it. She also beat her on the face and head with her fists, and when the woman fell to the ground she trampled on her. The woman’s face became swollen and blue. A friend of the woman’s daughter took her away and the woman was in the hospital for three weeks suffering from the effects of the beating. I saw everything myself that Grese did to this victim.
4. Whilst at Birkenau I have seen Grese making selections with Dr. Mengele of people to be sent to the gas chamber. On these parades Grese herself chose the people to be killed in this way. In one selection about August, 1944, there were between 2000 and 3000 selected. At this selection Grese and Mengele were responsible for selecting those for the gas chamber. People chosen would sometimes sneak away from the line and hide themselves under their beds. Grese would go and find them, beat them until they collapsed and then drag them back into line again. I have seen everything I describe. It was general knowledge in this camp that persons selected in this way went to the gas chamber.
5. Sometime in August or September 1944, at one of these selection parades, one Hungarian woman who had been selected tried to escape from the line and join her daughter in another line which was for those not chosen. Grese noticed this and ordered one of the S.S. guards to shoot the woman, which he did. I did not hear the order, but saw Grese speak to the guard and he was shot at once. In the company of some nurses from the hospital I took the dead body to the mortuary.
We again return to Irma Grese, under prosecution questioning by Col. Backhouse (p. 256):
- You affected heavy top-boots and you liked to walk around with a revolver strapped on your waist and a whip in your had, did you not?
- — I did not like it.
- You thought it very clever to have a whip made in the factory and even when the Kommandant told you to stop using it you went on, did you not?
- — Yes.
- What was this whip really made of?
- — Cellophane paper plaited like a pigtail. It was translucent like white glass.
- The type of whip you would use for a horse?
- — Yes.
- Then most of these prisoners who said they saw you carrying a riding whip were not far wrong, were they?
- — No, they were not wrong.
- Did the other Aufseherinnen have these whips made too?
- — No.
- It was just your bright idea?
- — Yes.
- In Lager “C” you used to carry a walking-stick, too, and sometimes you beat people with the whip and sometimes with the stick?
- — Yes.
- Were you allowed to beat people?
- — No.
- So it was not a question of having orders from your superiors to do it. You did this against orders, did you?
- — Yes.
- Were you the only person who beat prisoners against regulations?
- — I do not know.
- Did you ever see anyone else beat prisoners?
- — Yes.
- Did you sometimes get orders to do so?
- — No.
- Did you give orders to other Aufseherinnen working under you to beat prisoners?
- — Yes.
- Had you the right to give such authorization?
- — No.