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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Ilse Lothe)

ILSE LOTHE, sworn, examined by Major CRANFIELD - I am unmarried and was born on 6th November, 1914, in Erfurt. I worked in a shoe factory and in 1939 was directed to a munitions factory, and because I refused to go there I was sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where I stayed until March, 1942, when I was transferred to Auschwitz No. 1. After four weeks I was put in an outside Kommando at Budin [Budy], seven kilometres from Auschwitz, where we did all sorts of digging, constructing a dam. In June, 1943, I went to Birkenau, where I worked in the camp until February, 1944, when I became a Kapo in Kommando No. 6, which consisted of 100 Hungarian Jewesses. After four months the Kommando was dissolved and I got another consisting of 50 Hungarian Jewesses, building bunkers in prepared positions for guns. in November, 1944, I got another Kommando No. 107, Water Works. In December the Kommandant took away my armlet and put me in a punishment Kommando called Vistula. I was no longer a Kapo. I was in that punishment Kommando until January, 1945, when we went to Ravensbruck for four weeks. In the beginning of March a transport of pregnant women was sent to Belsen and I went with them, arriving there on the 4th. For three weeks I was ill and then I became a Kapo in the vegetable Kommando, consisting mostly of Russians, with a few Hungarian and Polish Jewesses. There were about 140 in the Kommando.

How did you come to be appointed a Kapo first of all in February, 1944? - We were on parade in the morning and the Arbeitsdienstfuhrer went along looking at us and suddenly said, "You will take over from, tomorrow on this Kommando." That is how I became a Kapo, and I could not do anything about it. There was no question about asking or refusing because if we had done so it would have amounted to refusing work and that meant 25 strokes.

Did you at Auschwitz carry any kind of a weapon or a stick? - No, nor have I ever beaten anybody with a stick, but sometimes I slapped their faces during distribution of food to keep order.

Have you ever knocked a woman down and kicked her on the ground, either at Auschwitz or at Belsen? - No.

While prisoners were working out of the camp were they allowed to speak to civilians? - No, it was prohibited, but they did speak with civilians.

Did you ever have anything to do with the selection parades for the gas chamber? - No. Whenever a selection Appell took place all the Kapos were concentrated in one block and it was strictly prohibited for them to leave that block during the time.

Did any of the Kommandos you were in work inside Birkenau Camp? - No. The Kommando used to leave the camp at 0700 hours in the morning and return back at 1800 hours.

Have you been punished by the Political Department at Auschwitz? - Yes, three times. The first time because I smuggled a letter out of the camp. The second because I burnt the boards of the beds - I made a fire of them. And the third because we organised some food and cigarettes. The first time I got 25 strokes done in this way: a block was placed between my knees and my two hands were tied, and I was swung to and fro and beaten from both sides as I swung from one side to the other. I was beaten with a rubber truncheon by two S.S. men. I have heard of other Kapos being punished in this way.

Was this the official punishment for misbehaviour? - In the beginning Berlin was asked and gave the decision. Later on we did not bother to ask Berlin for it, and the Political Department itself made the decision and did what they liked.

Were the witnesses Rozenwayg and Trieger ever in your Kornmando? - No. if they had been I would certainly have recognised them.

Have you ever been out of camp with your Kommando with the accused Grese? - I have never worked in the same Kommando with Grese. When I took my Kommando out to work there were two male S.S. guards.

Rozenwayg said that on a Kommando you told the accused Grese to set a dog on to her, and the dog then bit her. Is that true? - Completely untrue. First she gave the date as July, 1943, before I had ever thought of becoming a Kapo at all. Secondly, I have never worked with Grese in the same Kommando; and thirdly, if Rozenwayg had ever worked in my Kommando I would certainly have recognised her. Nor did I hit a girl called Wiedletz as she says.

Sonia Watinik in her deposition says that she has seen you beat prisoners so badly that they were unable to work and were taken to Block 25, which everybody knew meant going to the gas chamber. What do you say to that? - I never had a stick and never beat anyone like that. Nobody had to go because of me into Block No. 2-5.

Will you tell the Court what happened when you were arrested at Belsen? - On 22nd June I walked through the camp with a Polish Jewess. We passed six or seven other Polish Jewesses who shouted, "That is a Kapo from Auschwitz." After I had gone a bit further on I turned round and saw two British soldiers talking to these women and asking them what had been going on. They shouted that I was a Kapo from Auschwitz and the British soldiers called me back, asked me for my papers, and said that I had to go with them to the British officer. These women accompanied me to the police and they had to say something about me. The story told by Rozenwayg, Gryka and Watinik is untrue.

Cross-examined by Captain PHILLIPs - What duties did the vegetable Kommando do at Belsen? - We took the vegetables and the potatoes from the places where they were stored to the kitchen.

Were there S.S. men or women supervising it? - Yes. Two Aufseherinnen and one S.S. man. Their names were Lehmann, Friedrich and Lisiewitz.

Did the accused No. 37 (Herta Bothe) have anything to do with your vegetable Kommando at Belsen? - No, she was working at the wood stores.

Cross-examined by Captain BOYD - When do you say that the accused Lisiewitz worked on this vegetable Kommando? - The beginning of April, 1945. During the time I was with this Kommando I only saw her on one day, and shortly before noon she went away because she felt ill. She was not carrying a stick.

Cross-examined by Captain MUNRO - Did you know anybody in Block 199 called Ida Friedman? - Yes. I believe she was a Polish Jewess. Ten days after the arrival of the British troops I went to the hospital as a nurse and Ida Friedman was taken there. I believe she had typhus.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - You say the Ida Friedman you know was a Polish Jewess. That will not be the same one as Ehlert knows who was a Frenchwoman? - I think it was the same because she used to come to the Blockalteste. We used to talk with her in German and she very often went to Ehlert to tell fortunes by cards. The Blockalteste once told me she was a Polish Jewess.

About how many women were in Block 199? - 600 or 700. I know the names of a few girls in the block who were in my Kommando in Auschwitz. Friedman was never in my Kommando.

When you first went to Ravensbruck how were you treated? - We were treated very badly. There was not very much beating, but the Aufseherinnen who had working parties outside the camp used to set the dogs on us. Each Aufseherin had a dog and a pistol.

When you came to Auschwitz how were you treated there? - Very badly. The food was very bad; we had one litre of thin soup and one bread ration during the time I was at Budy.

Who was in charge of the Arbeitslager at Budy? - Kommandofuhrer Schlager. He treated us very badly. There were some Kapos there.

How did they treat you? - They also beat us, but not so often.

When you came into Birkenau in June, 1943, how were you employed? - In the masonry Kommando building a new parcels store and repairing the floors of some of the blocks which were made of bricks.

When you were working on drainage in Budy, did you go to and fro, night and morning, or did you live there? - We went to and fro every day.

Did the guard who went with you have dogs? - No.

You told us of the first punishment you got. What did you get for burning the bed boards? - I was put under arrest first in a cell, and received food every third day. I was there eight days and then I was taken to the Political Department where I received my 25 strokes. I had no kind of trial.

What about the third time when you were punished for organizing some food and cigarettes? - I was brought to the Political Department who made enquiries as to how and where I got the food and cigarettes, and then I was punished with 25 strokes because I bartered with civilians.

In Birkenau were people beaten by both Aufseherinnen and Kapos? -Yes.

Was Grese there then? - I saw Grese only when she was talking to somebody at the gate.

Were your Kommandos not composed of Hungarian Jewesses all the time you were a Kapo, and was not Grese in charge of the camp in which these Hungarians were? - Grese was in Camp "C." We were in Camp "B."

As a matter of fact, were you not a Kapo in the Strafkommando which was commanded by her for a time? Did you not work under her and did you not beat people severely yourself? - I have never worked with Grese there.

The Kapos had quite a few privileges, had they not? - No, on the contrary, we were punished much more severely than the others. We had exactly the same rations as all the other prisoners.

You had the distribution of it, had you not? - Never the Kapo, always the Blockalteste.

You say the Kapos were sent into one particular block if there was a selection for the gas chamber. Were you sent there before the selection started? - Yes.

Do you say that when Rozenwayg and Gryka came into the court the other day you did not even know them? - I do not know them.

Do you not remember them getting you arrested at Belsen, even if you never saw them before that? - I did not look at them closely at that time.

Did you not even look at the people who were accusing you? - They were shouting, but I continued to go on, and later on with the police they were not in the same room as I was.

If they were never in your Kommando at all why do you think they should pick on you? - That day they never said they had been working in my Kommando.

They said you had beaten them and ill-treated them at Auschwitz, did they not? - One said I had beaten her sister. She did not say her friend.

I suggest to you that you are not telling the truth about this at all, that in fact you worked with Grese, and those girls were under you, and that you did in fact complain to Grese on one occasion when she set her dog on one of them? - I have never been working with Grese, and was never in that Kommando.

I suggest to you that you beat Grunwald about the head with a stick to such an extent that she was taken away unconscious and eventually died? - I do not know anybody by that name, and I never had a stick.

I suggest that to save your own skin you were prepared to fall in with this system of ill-treatment of prisoners and to put yourself at the behest of the S.S.? - On the contrary, I did not fall in with that policy and as a matter of fact I was beaten much more frequently because I did not do so.

Why did you lose your armlet? - Because I had a few cigarettes in my pocket which we had organised on outside work.

What was the Vistula Kommando like? - Very bad. It was about three-quarters of an hour's march from the camp and over a bad road.

Were there S.S. guards with you? - Police, and apart from that three S.S. guards with dogs which were probably used when prisoners tried to escape on the way.

They were used to round up stragglers, were they not? - No. The guards went in front of the working party, and not behind them. In the Kommando Vistula those three guards with dogs were always in front.

That seems a very odd place to be if you wanted to stop people escaping behind you, was it not? - The police were at the back.

You had a very steep hill to go up on the way, and a lot of these women were very weak. Did they not find it very difficult to get up that hill sometimes? - Yes.

Were they not beaten up it? - No. It was a very big working party of 1000 women and when the first were at the top of the hill they stayed and waited until the last arrived. The Kommandofuhrer was sometimes furious if people were slow and he reprimanded them or he may have slapped their faces, but there was no particular beating.

It must have been nicer then in that punishment Kommando than in the rest of the camp? - It was not very nice because it was winter and very cold, and we had to work very hard.

What happened to the women who did not work very hard? - They were beaten.

And who was in charge of that Kommando? - Weingartner. (Accused No. 3.)

What usually happened to pregnant women at Auschwitz? - They were sent to the gas chamber.

How long were you Kapo of the vegetable Kommando at Belsen? - From 25th March until 14th April.

Dora Almaleh says in her deposition that she was one of the working party detailed to carry vegetables from the store to the kitchen. How did they carry them? - With a sort of cart. I was in charge of seven carts which were pulled by 15 prisoners.

Of course you do not know whether the accused Lisiewitz had been on this work before you came to it or not, do you? - I do not know. I only saw her on this job on Easter Sunday.

Was Roth the night guard in Block 199? - No. She was the Stubendienst, the room orderly.

Herta Bothe was in charge of preparing wood for the kitchen, was she not? - When I went with my Kommando to the other camp I saw her standing there, and I do not know any more.

When you got to Belsen were you promptly made a Kapo again? - I was sick for three weeks and then Oberaufseherin Volkenrath promoted me.

When you became a Kapo in Belsen were the women working under you very, very weak indeed? - No. I had nearly all Russians and they were all very strong.

Did they remain strong on the food they got? - The Russians were good at organizing.

But you remained fairly strong, did you not? - I was also quite good at organizing.

It was very easy for a Kapo, was it not? - No, not only for Kapos. Anybody who was good at organizing could do it.

What you really mean is that you could take somebody else's share, is it not? - No. If we had some sort of connections with the prisoners at the food stores we could barter with them.

But you were the Kapo of this party and one of the jobs that you accepted was looking after the work of your party, was it not? -Yes.

Let me suggest to you that what you did was that you got your own little party fed all right at the expense of the rest? - My Kommando was very good at organizing and apart from that they took potatoes which were in the cellar.

Re-examined by Major CRANFIELD - When you took the letters out of the camp at Auschwitz you knew you would be punished if you were found out, did you not? - I hoped that I would not be caught at it as I knew that I would be punished.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - When you were punished for smuggling letters were you a Kapo? - Yes.

And when you were punished on the other two occasions were you also a Kapo? - Yes.

You had had quite a number of beatings by that time. From the point of view of the German authorities you must have been a most unsatisfactory Kapo, must you not? - Yes. I have always done what was prohibited.

It was not until December, 1944, that Kramer took away your armlet. Is that right? - Yes, but it was Kraus who took it away then.

Do you think Volkenrath knew what an unsatisfactory record you had as a Kapo at Auschwitz? - I do not know.

By a Member of the Court - Where exactly were you between 12th April when the camp was taken over by the British and 22nd June when you were arrested? - First I worked as a nurse in the camp at Belsen where the hospital is, and later on as a nurse in Bergen.

Major CRANFIELD - I now put in a third affidavit by Regina Bialek which has not been put in before by the Prosecution.[16] (Exhibit No. 127.)

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Ilse Lothe)