War Crimes Trials - Vol. II The Belsen Trial. 'The Trial of Josef Kramer and Forty Four Others'
The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Elisabeth Volkenrath)
ELISABETH VOLKENRATH, sworn, examined by Major MUNRO - I am a German, married, and was born on 5th September, 1919 at Schonan in Silesia. Before the war I worked in a hairdressing saloon and was called up for national service in 1939. In 1941 I was conscripted into the S.S. and sent to Ravensbrück, where we were trained as Aufseherinnen and told what we had to do on that job. I worked with outside Kommandos and had to take care that prisoners did not escape and that they did their work. In March, 1942, I was sent to Auschwitz No. 1, where I worked in a sort of tailoring shop where they mended the uniforms of the prisoners. In August, 1942, the women's compound was transferred to Birkenau, and there I had some duties until I was taken to hospital ill. At the end of December, 1942, I took over the parcel store and was there up till September, 1944.
What were your duties in the parcel store? - All the parcels which came either from relatives of the prisoners or Red Cross parcels had to be opened and then distributed to the persons in question. I had 25 to 30 prisoners working in that office. The prisoners came there and received their parcels. I was in charge also of the distribution of bread to the prisoners, which was done from the same office. All the blocks came, and the Blockaltester, with one or two other prisoners, fetched the bread for his block.
What did you do after that? - I was transferred to Auschwitz No. 1, where I was put in charge of a working camp. I left there on 18th January, 1945, and arrived at Belsen on 5th February.
Did you start work there right away and continue working until the liberation? - I started right away, but only worked for a few days, when I was taken ill, sent to hospital, and returned only on 22nd March. I was Oberaufseherin and had to detail the Aufseherinnen in their respective duties.
Whilst you were at Auschwitz did you take part in gas chamber selections? - I myself, no. When I took over the women's camp in August, 1942, it was my duty to be in the camp, and owing to this I was present at these selections. I made none myself. My duties were to see that the prisoners kept quiet and kept order, that they did not run about.
Is it correct that you used to make selections from prisoners as they returned to camp from outside work? - That is a lie.
After prisoners had been chosen did you help to load them on the transport? - I was not there.
Have you seen prisoners being sent to the gas chambers on lorries? - I have seen them on the road, but that they were going to the gas chambers I did not know. I never helped to load any prisoners on to any lorries for any purpose.
Edith Trieger says in her affidavit that she saw you at Auschwitz beating prisoners all over with a rubber truncheon, that you used to make selections yourself of persons for the gas chamber, and that she herself was selected but managed to escape. What have you to say to that? - It is not true.
The accused Koper says in her statement that she recognised you as being responsible for gas chamber selections, not merely as a guard but as personally picking out victims, and that on one occasion, out of 1400 prisoners only 300 were left after the selection had been made. Is that true? - I personally have never selected anybody to be sent away.
It has been said by a great many witnesses and affidavits that you made a habit of beating women; is that correct? - It is true that I slapped the faces of women.
Mrs. Vera Fischer says in her statement that you beat her so severely that she was in hospital for three weeks? - That is not true.
The depositions of Kaufmann and Siwidowa also accuse you of brutal ill-treatment. Siwidowa says that she has seen you on about 80 occasions beat women prisoners until they were unconscious, and that many of these persons were carried away dead. Is that true? - No.
Did you ever beat anyone at Auschwitz other than with your hand? - No.
What about Belsen? - Only with my hand.
Helene Herkovitz says in her deposition that she was questioned by Ehlert about a ring and locket she was wearing, and that after being beaten she was made to run behind a bicycle to the S.S. Headquarters, where you, amongst others, beat her with a rubber truncheon, after which she was put in a cellar by herself and only given bread and water every three days. After three weeks and daily questioning she was taken out and made to work in the latrines, where she caught typhus. Do you remember that? - No. During the time I was in Belsen a case like this did not occur and I do not know anything about it.
Josephine Singer accuses you of throwing an old woman who came asking for work down the steps of the workshops and that she died immediately? - It is not true.
Nettie Stoppelman accuses you of taking away food, water and cigarettes from prisoners; did you? - Yes, but only if they had too much, which they were not allowed. I cannot remember taking cigarettes away, but the food, bread and other things I took away and distributed amongst other prisoners. The prisoners who were in possession of this food were working in the kitchen or in one of the stores and they received enough food there, but other prisoners did not get enough and that is why I distributed this food.
Was there a punishment known as "making sport"? - Yes. They had to do exercises if they had done something that was forbidden. For instance, if they were in possession of something they were not supposed to have. It did not last very long and I have not seen it in Belsen at all.
Miriam Weiss says in her deposition that on the day after the British arrived she saw you strike a girl very hard several times with your fist so that she fell to the ground and did not move, and that you went away leaving her lying there. Is that true? - No.
The witness Helen Hammermasch stated that you were present when Kramer interrogated the girl who had escaped and was caught again, and that you yourself took part when she was beaten? - It is true that when this prisoner was brought back she was beaten by Kramer, but I did not beat her, although I was present. It was in the evening and I knew that she had escaped and was being brought back.
That same witness described another occasion when a woman was undressed and beaten by you, Ehlert and Gollasch. Did that happen ? -Not by Ehlert or me, but by an S.S. man, and we were in that vicinity.
Have you ever made anyone kneel on the ground? - No.
Have you received a German translation of your statement which was read in court? - Yes, it was read through in German and then I told them that something had been put down differently and they told me it was going to be changed, but now I have received the translation I see that it was not changed. In a part of this statement on this question about sport, they asked me about this and I told them that the Aufseherin was not allowed to let the prisoners do sport without the permission of the Kommandant. I saw in the translation of the statement that it had been put down in a different way, but I cannot exactly remember what it is.
In your statement you say, "It is true that I have had to make prisoners on Appell hold their hands above their heads, but it was always on orders from others. This happened in Auschwitz on instructions from Mandel and Drechsel"? - I said it this way, that I had seen it but that I did not order them to do it.
Did you ever make any complaint to anyone about the conditions at Belsen? - Several times I talked with the Kommandant and told him about what was going on in the camp. I asked him why the prisoners did not get more food and why all these transports were coming in. He told me that the railways were being bombed and that they had no opportunity to get enough food to the camp.
Cross-examined by Major CRANFIELD - You know the accused Grese. How long have you served with her? - I have never served with her. Our duties were never together. I was with her at Auschwitz up to the evacuation of the camp in January.
Did you also serve with her at Belsen? - Yes.
Were you Oberaufseherin with Grese under your command? - For a few weeks at Auschwitz and during the time at Belsen.
Had Grese a dog? - When I saw her, no.
Was Grese ever in charge of the Strafkommando? - Whether she was in charge I do not know, but I have seen her with the Strafkommando which worked inside the camp. I believe there were Strafkommandos outside also.
Do you remember an Aufseherin called Buchhalter being punished? -Yes, because she sent letters written by prisoners to their relatives in an unofficial way and had a love affair with a male prisoner. The punishment took place at the house where we lived in the dining-room in the evening and we had all to parade. Grese was also present.
What was the punishment? - Twenty-five lashes with a whip, which had to be administered by the Aufseherin.
Was the Kommandant then called Hoess? - Yes, he came and read out the judgment and said to all the Aufseherinnen that this woman was being punished by order of Reichsführer Himmler.
Before a selection parade took place, did the Aufseherinnen know whether it was to choose the fit people or the unfit ? - No, the sign - the whistle - was sounded for parade and then the prisoners fell in. The doctor came and he decided who was fit and unfit.
Before the selection parade were any orders given to the Aufseherinnen as to the object of the parade, whether it was to choose a working party for a factory, to go to another camp, to choose a party to go to the gas chamber, or for some other purpose? - No.
Cross-examined by Captain BOYD - Did accused, Number 40 (Gertrud Fiest), ever come to you about the overcrowding in Women's Compound No. 2 and see if anything could be done about it? - Yes, several times, and she went also to the doctor, who at least took our sick people and admitted them to the C.R.S.
Did she also come to see you about the shortage of medical supplies - beds, soap and things of that sort? - Yes, she did not get very much because there was not very much there. But what could be spared she did get from the administration. This was about the beginning of April.
Do you know if working parties were ever chosen from Women's Compound No. 2? - The Kommandos which went outside and those who worked in the administration were always chosen from No. 1.
Do you remember when the accused Lisiewitz was ill at Belsen? - I know that she had been ill for a considerable time, but I do not know the date.
Cross-examined by Captain MUNRO - When did the accused, No. 45 (Hildegard Hahnel), arrive in Belsen? - In the first days of April, 1945.
Was she ever in charge of the bath-house at Belsen? - No.
Between 4th April and the time the British arrived were there ever any bath parades at all for women in Belsen? - No, there were none. Anyway, there was no coal available. It was impossible.
It has been alleged against Hahnel that during February, 1945, she was in charge of the bath-house at Belsen, and as a certain lot of girls did not dress quickly enough for her she beat them very severely. Is that true or untrue? - I cannot believe it.
Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Is not Ravensbrück, where you got your training, where practically all S.S. women were sent to be trained? - I believe so.
That was a camp entirely for women, was it not? - Yes.
Was not the treatment of women at Ravensbrück almost worse than at Auschwitz? - The treatment was severe, but I cannot call it bad.
Do you remember the gas chamber at Ravensbrück which was in a wood about two miles from the camp? - I do not know anything about that.
Was not Dr. Rosenthal engaged in experiments on gas gangrene? - I have never heard of it.
Were not internees at Ravensbrück being regularly used for experimental purposes? - I never heard anything about it.
I suggest to you that it was at Ravensbrück that S.S. women were taught to beat and ill-treat prisoners and that at that place you were taught that the only way to keep prisoners in order was to beat them and ill-treat them until they were frightened to death of you? - That is not true.
Did you carry pistols at Ravensbrück? - Some of the Aufseherinnen did.
When you went first to Auschwitz in March, 1942, the camp had not been divided into Auschwitz No. 1 and Auschwitz No. 2? - No.
You worked in the tailor's shop. Were the majority of people employed in that workshop elderly women? - Yes.
Is it right that to obtain employment in that workshop was one of the best ways for elderly women to avoid the gas chamber? - All old women were working there and nobody went away from that camp.
Did you not regularly strike prisoners with your fists in that workshop? - I had no reason to do that. The women were doing their work and everything was all right.
Was your sister at Auschwitz at that time? - Yes, in the laundry.
Do you remember any of the people dying at that workshop? - I could not know really everybody, because there were 150 to 200 women working there and whether anybody died or not I do not know.
When you went to Birkenau in August, 1942, did you become an Aufseherin in the hospital? - No I have never been working at a hospital. I was ill in hospital until December, 1942, with typhus.
I suggest to you that for a time you were employed in the hospital? - That is not true.
Do you remember the witness Sunschein saying that she was not sure whether your name was Volkenrath or Weinniger? - My name is Volkenrath. What she believes I do not know. My sister is called Weinniger.
Sunschein said that although she was not sure of the name, she was quite sure that you were the woman she saw in the parcels store when she went to fetch bread and that she had frequently seen you beating people there. Is that true? - It was often necessary to slap their faces because prisoners tried to steal either bread or parcels which did not belong to them.
There were three kinds of selections for the gas chamber, were there not. First, when the transports arrived; Second, in the camp outside the blocks or in the bath-house; and third, in the hospital? - I have never been there when the transports arrived. No women were there at all. The Aufseherinnen had to be present when parades were held in the camp. The doctor made the selection, but whether for life or death or anything like that we did not know because we did not know the purpose of these selections.
In your statement you say, "I have been present when selections were made from prisoners by the S.S. doctors of those unfit for work. Those people were all sent to Block 25 and to my knowledge they were never seen again." is that true? - I did not know these people personally and when they were sent away I was not present, so where they went I would not know.
Who took the numbers of the persons who were not fit for work? -The clerks of the hospital.
Were these women who were to be selected stripped naked? - No.
Were they just put back gently to bed again at the end of the selection? - I do not know anything about it.
You were there, were you not? - I did not go with them to Block 25, and it was strictly prohibited for us Aufseherinnen to go into the hospitals or into the block.
Everyone in the camp knew what Block 25 was for, did they not? - I do not think so.
There are at least five witnesses who say that you were on these selections. Edith Trieger in her statement says that she saw you at selection parades for the gas chamber make selections yourself and that she was picked out by you but managed to escape. Is that not true? - It's a lie.
What did you do on these selections if the women did not behave in an orderly manner? - Everything was quiet and orderly. Everybody was doing what he had been told to do. And everybody stood and there was no question about shouting or screaming.
These people knew they were being selected to die, did they not? - I did not know and the people could not have known either. Nobody knew why these selections were made.
Are you seriously asking the Court to believe that? - Yes.
Is it not right that it was quite easy to tell a selection parade because only Jews had to parade for it? - We were never told anything about it.
I suggest to you that when these women found that they were being put with the people in Block 25 they tried to escape, to hide, and get with the people on the other side, they cried and they shrieked? - When I was present it never happened.
On the ordinary morning Appell was it easy to get people to stand in an orderly fashion in fives? - Not always.
Why, then, did these people suddenly become so quiet and so orderly like sheep before the slaughter? - During the counting parades the only impediment was the presence of the sick who could not get quickly enough to the parade ground. When they went away everybody was all right.
I suggest to you that you kept order on these selection parades by beating people, kicking them, ill-treating them in every way when they tried to escape, and that you did it yourself? - That is not true.
I put it to you that not only on selection parades but throughout your time in concentration camps you knew perfectly well that discipline was kept by regular beatings? - If they did not obey orders and were slapped, it was only their own fault. If they were more intelligent, then they did obey orders and everything was all right.
Siwidowa in her affidavit said that on about seventy or eighty occasions she had seen you beating prisoners until they were unconscious and that she had seen you, who were in charge of all the S.S. women, beat women prisoners across the head with a rubber truncheon? - That is also a damned lie, just as the other things.
Did Bormann have a very big dog in Birkenau? - She had a brown dog. It was rather big.
You have told us about this savage punishment of the S.S. women for quite minor offences ? - From the point of view of high authority, it was almost the worst offence one could commit.
If such punishment was administered to S.S. women, why were you so gentle to the prisoners? - Gentle? Well, I was severe with my prisoners, but if they did what they were told to do I had no reason to punish them. Why should I have been bad towards them?
Who chose the Blockältesten, and so on? - In Belsen they were already there when I arrived. Otherwise it would have been perhaps my job or that of the Rapportführerin.
With regard to the beating in Belsen which Hammermasch told us about, when a young girl was stripped and beaten and Ehlert and you were both there, I gather you say the beating was by two S.S. men. Is that right? - No, one. Kasainitzky, and she was not naked.
May we get it quite clear that we are not mistaking two incidents. I am talking of the occasion when there was the girl, who was taken by you and Ehlert to where the Lagerältester and the Arbeitsdienstältester lived, not far from the Blockführer's room? - I know where about it should be, but I do not know whether it happened.
It is suggested that you and Ehlert in the evening took the girl there and that you first of all stripped and searched her and that then you beat her? - No, I cannot even remember such a thing. During the period when I was at Belsen an incident when Ehlert and I beat a prisoner who was naked and who was searched simply does not exist.
Do you remember Ehlert catching the girl who was wearing a ring and locket? - I do not know anything about it.
Was it forbidden for internees to take jewellery and did a number of them try to hide jewellery about their person? - Yes.
I am suggesting to you that on that occasion this girl Herkovitz was beaten by two S.S. men whilst she was being questioned in the presence of you, Ehlert and another S.S. woman called Gollasch? - That is not true. I remember now that I have heard about it in Belsen, but it happened before I arrived there.
Who told you about it? - Ehlert. I do not know any details, but I was told about the jewels which this woman had and about some sort of punishment which was meted out to her.
What usually happened to a woman who was caught with hidden jewellery? - She was brought to the Political Department and they went into the question of where these jewels came from.
With regard to the other incident about the young Russian girl who escaped from a working party and was recaptured, you were waiting near the gate because she was going to be brought back. Is that right? -Yes.
Was Kramer waiting for her too? - Yes.
Was Kasainitzky waiting there too? - He was in the Blockführer's room. Kramer asked the girl details about her escape. She lied and consequently she got her face slapped by him. I did not see Ehlert.
Ehlert in her account of it says, "Kramer, the Kommandant, questioned the girl in front of several of us S.S. women and I saw him kicking and shaking her and later hit her with a stick on her head and face and all over her body quite unmercifully." Is that right? - I have not seen that.
Did she eventually give the names of two girls who were said to have helped her to escape? - She said something about it and the women were consequently fetched and Kasainitzky administered punishment.
I put it to you for the last time. Was not that a regular practice in the concentration camp? - No.
It has been stated in an affidavit by Katherine Neiger that you caught a girl who was very sick taking some vegetables, and that you made her kneel down and hold the vegetables above her head. After about four hours she could no longer hold her arms up and you beat her on the head, back and legs with a rubber truncheon. The girl was knocked unconscious and no one was allowed to assist her and she lay there until nightfall. This statement also alleges that you frequently hit sick girls on Appell and that the deponent herself was struck across the face with a rubber truncheon? - The whole thing is a lie.
Why did Gertrud Fiest come to you and how was it that you managed to provide things for her? - Because I had more opportunity to speak to either the people in charge of stores or with the Kommandant himself.
Who was in charge of Compound No. 2 ? - The Lagerführer, Klipp. He was in charge of the whole camp.
I put it to you that you were the responsible woman for both Camps No's. 1 and 2? - I was only the Oberaufseherin in charge of the Aufseherinnen, but not Lagerführerin.
Did you at any time order a girl to kneel down, or is the whole of that story quite untrue? - It is untrue.
Did you have quite a lot of women at Belsen working collecting wood? - There were Kommandos sent out for that purpose.
Do you remember 600 women being deprived of food and water because two from their Kommando had escaped? - Such a big Kommando as 600 people never went out at Belsen.
REQUEST BY PROSECUTION TO MAKE USE OF SOVIET FILM
Colonel BACKHOUSE - I have been supplied by the Soviet Government with an official documentary film of Auschwitz made by a Soviet official photographer which I think would be of assistance to the Court. It is not one which relates specifically to any accused in the sense of any particular act, but is a film which shows the camp, the plans of the camp, the inside of the blocks, etc., the people who were left behind and certain of the activities of the Soviet Commission of Investigation there. Although I have closed the Prosecution's case, I apply to show that film through as part of the Prosecution's case, or I suggest the Court might call for it themselves as they have power to do at any time. I suggest the film might be shown on Monday morning at the opening of the Court, which would enable the cinema people to get their arrangements made beforehand and would give my friends an opportunity hereafter should they wish to ask witnesses about anything that appeared in it. I shall not object if my friends think it necessary for any of the witnesses called to be recalled on any specific point.
Major CRANFIELD - I object to this and cannot see what the object is. We saw a film of Belsen and the only point in that film as far as I could see was to show that the Prosecution witnesses were telling the truth when they described Belsen Camp as it was when they arrived. The Defence do not dispute that they were telling the truth and in the same way do not dispute that there was a concentration camp at Auschwitz. The Defence witnesses have described how the camp was organised and have told you there were gas chambers there. As the Prosecutor says, the film is not related in any way to any of the accused in the dock. We have heard that as far as the accused are concerned Auschwitz was closed in January, 1945. When was the film taken? It certainly was not taken in January, 1945. What is the object of showing a film about Auschwitz taken maybe months after the accused left, and what is the object of showing a film of a lot of refugees who have no connection with these accused at all? We have sat here and listened to the stories of Strasbourg, Natzweiler, this, that and the other - nothing to do with the accused - brought in under Regulation 8 (2) without objecting, because we cannot object, but how the Prosecution can suggest one can rely on Regulation 8 for a film is beyond my comprehension. I have heard of points being stretched in favour of the Defence in Military Courts, but I have not heard before points being stretched in favour of the Prosecution. In my submission it would be quite wrong to halt the Defence case at this stage and allow a film of this kind to be put in.
Colonel BACKHOUSE - The Prosecution had no knowledge of the existence of this film until it was offered by the official Russian representative here at this trial and he sent for it. If necessary I will prove that it was taken at the time of the liberation of the camp. If my friend agrees with the Prosecution's statement of the conditions at Auschwitz, I shall not put it forward, but I thought there was a dispute as to what happened at Auschwitz. I put it forward simply to show the conditions found by the Russians when that camp was liberated, to give you a general picture of the camp about which we are talking and of the conditions found there, and also of the persons still in that camp when it was liberated. In my view there can be no better evidence of the conditions of a place than photographs taken at the time. There is no question of it being put in for prejudice: it is put in at this stage because we could not get it before. The commentary explains what is happening at the time, but as it is in German, the German interpreter could quite easily interpret while the sound track is running and omit any propaganda. The film is, in my submission, plainly admissible. The Regulation says, "any oral statement or documentary statement." A talking film might be said to be partially one and partially the other. In law it is a document. I did not say (and I think it is quite obvious) that this film bore no relation to the accused. What I said was, it raised no specific point in respect of any specific accused. It obviously bears relation to the accused who were on the staff at Auschwitz.
The JUDGE ADVOCATE - I am prepared to advise the Court that, providing you are satisfied with the circumstances and the time when this film was taken, that it is within your competence to receive it in evidence and attach such weight to it as you may think fit. I think it is obvious that had these trials been brought on very shortly after these alleged incidents, the Military Court charged with the duty of investigating the evidence would have at once proceeded to Belsen and to Auschwitz. We have, in the case of Belsen, tried to correct the time-lag by going round, and I think we all got a much better idea of distances and lay-outs. If you are going to get an authentic film which will give data on that aspect of the case, I should have thought on that footing alone, you would have found it better to have it so that you will have a detailed picture. The question at issue is, will you get some notion of weight by showing this film which will help you to decide where the truth lies in regard to incidents alleged to have taken place at Auschwitz.
(The Court adjourned and re-opened.)
The JUDGE ADVOCATE - The Court have considered this question and have decided that they would like to see the film placed before them at 9.30 on Monday morning. They would like the film to be silent, with the official interpreter just indicating in English the relative points which will help them to follow the positions and lay-out of the camp, etc. They feel it will be better to treat this as evidence collected by the Court. The Court feel that all the accused must be present.
ELISABETH VOLKENRATH RECALLED:
By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - When a prisoner came to Auschwitz, officially was she known by name or by a number which was given to her at the camp? - I did not have anything to do with the arriving prisoners. If I worked together with them, I knew their names, and the rest I did not know.
On a roll-call were you merely counting the number of people on parade or were you checking up the number of people who should have been there with some kind of list? - We only counted the number of people in the block. Every block had a certain number of inhabitants and if the number was not correct on the roll-call somebody was missing. That is the only way we knew that somebody was missing.
You were in Auschwitz for quite a long time: during what period of that time were you present at selections for the gas chamber? - I did not know that they were for the gas chamber, and I only attended parades on two or three occasions in August, 1942.
Did you attend these Appelle because you were in charge of some women's block? - Yes, because I was on duty inside the camp.
Did you notice after these selections that some sick or infirm prisoners had gone away? - No.
Did people never disappear from the roll-call that you took after these selections? - I did not notice it.
By a Member of the Court - Could it have been that these were parades for working parties? - Yes.
Were there always doctors and clerks from the hospital present? - At these roll-calls and parades that I know about, yes.
The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Elisabeth Volkenrath)