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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Oscar Schmitz)

OSCAR SCHMITZ, sworn, examined by Captain ROBERTS - I am a German, unmarried, and was born on 23rd February, 1916, at Cologne. In 1933, when Hitler came into power, I was studying at a sort of engineering job. Before that, although not active, I was in the Communist Youth Movement. At that time the whole German youth was collected into the movement of the Hitler Youth, and the man with whom I had been working at that time tried to force me to join that movement, but I did not. In May, 1934, I finished my exams, and for a short period was working where I had finished my training, but then I was dismissed because I did not belong to any Party organization. For a period I was without any sort of work, and then I took on odd sorts of jobs. Times were very difficult. I was living with my mother and as I did not want to put the burden on her, I left her house. I had a relief of RM. 7.50 a week dole money, and still had all sorts of odd jobs. For instance, I helped in the slaughter-house. One day I had to pay RM. 4.50 for the rent of my room.

As a result of this did you do something for which you were later imprisoned? - I went into a pawnshop and left there a set of cups, plates and so on, that did not belong to me, and I was arrested on 27th November, 1934, and sent to prison until 3rd December, 1935.

When Germany marched into the Rhineland in 1936 what happened to you then? - I was conscripted for the Arbeitsdienst, a sort of semi-military organization which should have been followed by a proper military training later on, but I did not serve in it and went to Hamburg to try to go abroad. Although I tried twice to get abroad on a ship I did not succeed in doing so, and in October, 1936, went to prison again because I took a car from Duisburg which did not belong to me and went to Hamburg in it. I was in prison until 4th August, 1939, when I returned to Cologne and worked in the Daimler Benz Mercedes factory there.

In December, 1939, did you receive a calling-up order telling you to report to a recruiting station? - Yes. I ought to have reported on 8th December - there was a war on - but I did not do so and went to Vienna, where I was arrested in January, 1940, and was sent in a sort of protective custody to a camp at Emsland, near the North Sea. Only military personnel who had deserted, from a Private to a Major, were sent there. I stayed there until March, 1944, working on all sorts of drainage on the moors and planting potatoes. We were then evacuated because some sort of infectious disease was rampant, and I was brought to Vienna to the Gestapo.

What happened to you then? - In the beginning of May I went with a transport consisting mostly of Hungarian Jews and the whole Hungarian Government to Mauthausen, where I stayed until June, 1944. I was then sent to the Hermann Goering Factory at Linz, and on 25th July the factory was raided and I was wounded. I went to hospital and when I recovered I was sent back to Mauthausen, where I remained until November, 1944, when I was sent with 1200 other prisoners to Auschwitz. I moved from there in January, 1945, to Nordhausen, and in March was sent to a small satellite camp at Tettenborn, where I was employed unloading trucks containing weapons which were evacuated from the Eastern Front. I was the only German there, so was put in charge of the camp. Once I was sent to Dora to fetch some medical supplies for a prisoner doctor and in the stores I met Josef Klippel. On 5th April we evacuated Tettenborn and arrived at the Wehrmacht Barracks area at Bergen-Belsen on the morning of the 10th April.

What happened then? - When we arrived there Wehrmacht personnel still occupied the barracks and we had to wait until these were free. There were only very few German nationals amongst the prisoners and they asked me to have a look around to see where I could find something to eat. As transports arrived one after another the prisoners asked me to get some food for them and I was made Lagerältester by the prisoners. In the afternoon of the 10th I went to Hoessler, told him that the prisoners had been on their way for several days and that something must be done about food. He promised me to try, and in the evening in two or three kitchens food was cooked. The next day the first lorry with bread arrived and that was followed by turnips and potatoes. There were all the nations of the world, Belgian, Dutch, Italian, Czechs and Poles, and I know from my long experience in concentration camps what it means when all these nations are together and you are not able to understand each other at all. I asked Hoessler whether these people - there were very many of them, 15000 - could be organised into different nationalities and he said "All right," and I spent two whole days and nights going from one block to the other trying to find out how many nationals there were, and how many people belonging to each respective one. On the morning of 16th April I finished this job, and the people were organised into different nationalities.

Did you have to use any force to carry this out? - No.

About 13th April were you given an opportunity of leaving the camp? - Yes. On the 12th, when the S.S. troops left the camp, all the prisoners of German nationality were told to assemble and a party of 150 was selected to leave the camp, I amongst them. There was a rumour that this party would be sent straight to the front line. I did not want to do that, and therefore I stayed on.

What sort of clothing were you wearing during this period? - The same as all the other prisoners in concentration camps. This sort of striped clothing.

Did you have any arms? - No.

What happened when the British troops arrived? - About 9.30 on the morning of the 16th the first loudspeaker van came and stopped in front of the Kommandant’s office, and the first or second phrase was that this camp was liberated and the Germans had nothing more to say there. He said that in all the languages so that everyone understood. From this moment all sorts of groups were created, formed mostly out of Ukrainians, and those groups went through the camp and wherever they saw a German prisoner, they gave him a beating. That night was quite quiet, but on the next morning these groups were going through the camp again, and as the prisoners were organised in different nations it was very easy to find the German group of prisoners which by that time was very small, only about 35 prisoners left. It is quite understandable that they were furious about National Socialism, but of course those Germans were prisoners themselves and were certainly not guilty of National Socialism.

Will you tell the Court the circumstances of the actual attack on you? - About eight or nine of them came into the room where I live. We numbered only three Germans, and they asked us to undress, to leave everything, boots and pullover, trousers and tunic and shirt, until I was left only in my underpants and socks. One of them had a bayonet. Then a sort of fight started because we tried to get out of the door, and they beat us with their sticks so I could not do anything else but jump out of the window. Nothing happened to me and I reported immediately to the Kommandantur, which was just opposite my block where I jumped from. I reported to the British guard who put me in a room where already four S.S. men were held.

Did you try to explain then that you were not an S.S. man? - I came into that room, clad only in my underpants and. socks, and there I saw a uniform hanging on a nail which I put on so that I should not be running around in that attire, and then I tried to explain to the British guard, but it was quite hopeless as he did not speak German and I did not speak English, so we could not understand each other. The four S.S. men were Klippel, Kraft, Kltscho and Stephan, and later on I was brought together with these four, to join the other S.S. men, Hoessler, Stofel, Fritz and Kulessa. In the evening I tried for the second time to get out, and to go back to my block, and when I opened the door I forgot for the moment I had on an S.S. uniform and that the guard would take me for an S.S. man, and so he immediately held his rifle and bayonet pointing at me. From that day I had to share all the work which the S.S. were told to do, and then on 21st April I was told to go to Belsen Concentration Camp and to drag the bodies to bury them.

Was that the first occasion on which you had been in what has been called in this court No. 1 Camp? - Yes, on 21st April as a prisoner of the British troops.

Were you brought to Celle on 21st April? - Yes, together with. the S.S. men. On the second day I reported immediately to a German sergeant-major in charge of part of the prison and told him I was not an S.S. man but a concentration camp prisoner myself, and he brought a British sergeant who promised he would look into this matter. Through my work in Camp No. 1 I caught an infectious disease and on 6th May I fainted and caught typhus, and on 15th May I was sent to the hospital.

From the time when you were first mistaken for an S.S. man up to the time you appeared first in this court, has anybody ever interrogated you? - This is the first time I have ever been asked any questions concerning this. I have repeatedly tried to establish my true identity.

In the deposition of Vaclav Jecny you are accused of shooting prisoners? - All that is nonsense. I was a prisoner and have never been an S.S. man. This cannot have been Camp 2 he refers to because there was not any barbed wire in the camp, nor was there a No. 3 Kitchen. A hospital is mentioned, but we had no hospital at all, only later on a block was transferred to a part of a hospital.

Did you ever shoot or ill-treat any prisoners? - Never. I have never had any firearms in my hands.

Cross-examined by Major BROWN - Did No. 19 (Otto Kulessa) travel on the same transport as you? - Yes.

During the journey, did you see any guards shooting prisoners? - No.

Did you see any shooting when you arrived at Bergen-Belsen? - Yes.

Did you see No. 19 shooting anybody or standing at the door of a block beating prisoners? - No.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - You told us you were more or less continuously in prison from 1935 until August 1939? - From 1934.

About what time in 1940 were you arrested? - 26th January.

Had the prison at Ernsland a military governor? - Yes, as S.A. Kommandant.

Were you not given a sentence? - Protective custody.

In March, 1944, you say you were taken to Vienna; was that where the new recruits for the S.S. were taken? - I do not know.

I am suggesting to you that when you went to Vienna you joined the S.S.? - No, that is nonsense. The Prosecutor knows quite well that I have been a prisoner myself so I could not have been as S.S. man.

You say you went from Vienna to Mauthausen with a transport of Hungarian Jews. Were you not there as one of the guard of the transport? - I do not know anything about it.

Do you speak Hungarian? - No.

Why were you put with a transport of Hungarian Jews, then? - They came from Hungary through Vienna, and I, with about 120 other prisoners, had to join that transport.

If you were not in the S.S., do you at least admit that perhaps you were a Kapo with that transport? - No, I was a simple prisoner.

In November you came to Birkenau, Auschwitz, and there you attended a selection parade. Just tell us what happened on that selection parade? - When we arrived we were sent to the bathhouse and later on we had to register and each of us got a number. Then the man in charge of the working parties came and selected people for different smaller camps run by Auschwitz.

Did you have your number tattooed on your arm like the other prisoners we have heard? - No, that was not done to the German prisoners.

Then you went to Auschwitz 3. Did nobody think of using you as a Kapo there either? - No.

How were you treated at Auschwitz? - I personally cannot complain. When we arrived at Birkenau we had to fall in in fives, and we were marched off to the bath-house. Everything was done by fellow prisoners.

I take it you did not see any beating or ill-treatment of anybody there? - No. We were purposely required for the armaments industry. There was the I.G. Farben Industries, and that is the reason why we were asked to come to Auschwitz.

In January, 1945, you went to Dora. Did you ever see anybody ill-treated there at all? - No, because there prisoners were needed for working on V1 and V2 weapons.

Really, you have had a very good time in concentration camps, have you not? - I could not say so.

Then you went to this small camp at Tettenborn which you were in charge of? - Yes.

You went down to Dora to get some medical supplies. Who guarded you? - The man in charge had the rank of Unterscharführer and the other guards belonged to the Air Force.

When you went down to fetch those medical supplies was that done on the instructions of the Unterscharführer? - No.

Could you just go back to Dora if you felt like it to fetch things? - No, I had to report to the Unterscharführer, and then when he allowed me to go down I was with a sentry, who came with me on the train, a distance of 28 kilometres. At Dora I had to apply for these things, and if the application was granted it was all right.

When you got to Belsen, Hoessler was in charge of the camp. Had you seen him before you got there? - In Dora.

How did it happen that you, who had just been in command of a little party of 28, came to be chosen as Lagerältester for 15000? - In Tettenborn I had an armlet with "L.A." on it, Lagerältester, and when we arrived in Bergen-Belsen somebody who spoke German had to take charge of things, and the others, French, Czechs and Poles, all came to me and asked me to take over.

Was Kulessa on your transport down to Belsen? - Yes.

Are you quite sure about the date you started? - Yes we left Tettenborn on 5th April.

I suggest that the whole of this Dora party arrived a little bit earlier than you say? - No.

Were you six days on the journey? - Yes.

Did quite a lot of people die on the journey? - There were 100 to each truck. When we arrived in Bergen we had 47 dead. I stayed on the station in Bergen with ten other prisoners to load those dead bodies on a truck, and I had to count them. There was nobody in charge of this party.

Do you remember some shooting as soon as you arrived at the barracks at Belsen? - Not when we arrived.

I suggest that when you arrived at Belsen there were some vegetables opposite the party when it was drawn up, and quite a lot of prisoners who had had nothing to eat on that journey broke off and tried to get some of them? - I remember there were vegetables in a big heap, but this heap was on the other side of the train, and any prisoner who wanted to get there would have to climb over the train. I myself did not see anything, but if there were 3000 prisoners and I was at one end I would not have seen what happened at the other end. I did not hear any shots.

You have told us, that the people from Tettenborn had no food. How was the food for the people from Dora carried? - As far as I remember I was told there was 1½ loaves of bread and 2 lb. of meat in a tin per prisoner. They carried it in their hands and the next day it had gone because they had eaten it. As I was not there I do not know how it was issued.

Did you have nothing to eat for the whole six days? - No.

You looked remarkably well on it when you got to Belsen, did you not? - That is possible.

What water did you get? - Sometimes I got a drop of water - I am speaking about myself now - but no food.

When you got to the camp you explained to Hoessler the difficulties of a concentration camp with people of a good many nations in it, and you said that you thought that it would be better if you put the people into blocks by nationalities? - Yes. Are you really suggesting that was the way a prisoner was allowed to talk to the S.S.? - Why not?

Was not the reason that you were set upon in that camp because you were in the S.S.? - How could I be in the S.S. if I was a prisoner? Such a case never existed.

Was the reason why you were in your underpants and socks not because you tried to get rid of your S.S. uniform? - Then it would not have been necessary for me to go to the Kommandantur.

Were you not chased there by the prisoners? - No.

Have you never seen anybody in this dock ill-treat anybody? - I have never seen these people before, and I knew them only from Bergen.

Have you never seen an S.S. man ill-treat anybody in a concentration camp? - Oh yes!

Did you never see anybody ill-treated either at Auschwitz, Dora or Belsen? - Yes, in Mauthausen. When we arrived there we were forced to spend the night in a small room meant for 80 or 90 people whilst we numbered 400 or 500. There was no possibility, really, to lie down, and the Blockführer came, an S.S. man, and said, "I shall return and then I want to see that everybody lies on the floor." There was no possibility of understanding him because there were all sorts of nationals there who could not speak German. When he came back people were still standing, so he took his rubber truncheon and started beating us until everybody was on the floor.

You told us that a lot of people left Belsen before the British came and only those were kept behind who were wanted for the administration work of the camp? - Amongst the prisoners the Germans had left, and only a very small number of S.S. men had stayed on.

The S. S. men who stayed behind had got a very big job on, had they not? - Yes, when we arrived the barracks and kitchens were empty, so something had to be done.

I suggest to you that all the resources of the S.S. men were turned on to trying to clean up the concentration camp part? - Amongst those S.S. who were with me I did not see anybody leaving the camp. I myself wanted to go once to Belsen Concentration Camp with a truck loaded with bread and was told, "You cannot go there, that camp is closed. There is typhus there."

What did you want to take the truck of bread there for? - I saw two trucks loaded with bread arriving which Hoessler had got from the bakery. One truck was unloaded and Hoessler told the driver of the other one to take it to the women’s compound in the Belsen Concentration Camp. I wanted to go there with the driver, but he told me that I could not.

My suggestion to you is that before the British arrived you did go there, and you did assist in supervising the cleaning up of that camp and the dragging away of the bodies? - No.

I suggest that when you went there you were armed with a pistol? - Then the Prosecutor must have seen me.

Did your transport bring some bicycles from Dora? - I did not see any.

Klippel said they had five bicycles? - I do not know of that.

I put it to you that you went down into that camp on a bicycle and that you shot at and in fact hit and killed people in that camp? - No, I do not know anything about that. I was a prisoner and could not have passed the guards at all as I would have been shot myself. I never had a bicycle, nor did I see any bicycles there at all.

Re-examined by Captain ROBERTS - Had you not your blood group tattooed on you? - No.

Were you still wearing your armband with "LA" on it when you came to Belsen? - Yes.

If you had just thrown your S.S. uniform away, as has been suggested, would you have put on another S.S. uniform? - No.

Had you seen any of the S.S. men in the dock here before you came to Belsen? - Only Hoessler and Klippel.

You said you had often seen people beaten in concentration camps. Were you ever beaten yourself? - Yes.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - Where did you get that uniform you are wearing? - I received it in Celle.

What did the uniform you found in the room consist of? - It was a complete uniform of Oberscharführer. It was the only uniform in the room.

Did this uniform fit you reasonably well? - The trousers were short, but the jacket fitted reasonably.

Did you wear this clothing at Belsen from the time you put it on to the time you were taken away at Celle? - Yes, I was photographed in this uniform in Celle.

When you jumped out of the window were you wearing boots or were you in your bare feet? - I was only in my socks.

Where did you get some boots from? - I received these boots from Kulessa in the room where we were taken to afterwards, and Barsch gave me a shirt.

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Oscar Schmitz)