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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Ladislaw Gura)

LADISLAW GURA, sworn, examined by Major BROWN - I am a Czechoslovak born on 27th June, 1918, in Bratislava. I am married and have one child. On 15th April, 1943, I joined the S. S. by force, and on the 16th I arrived at Auschwitz via Vienna. For the rest of 1943 I was employed as a driver.

When you were at Auschwitz were you ever a guard? - Yes. During the summer of 1943 the whole of the M.T. personnel and the clerks had to do guard duties as a punishment one Sunday morning and afternoon. In April and May, 1944, I was drawn out from my M.T. work and put on guard duties for approximately eight weeks.

Have you ever hit anybody over the head and face with the butt of a rifle as you are accused of doing in the deposition of Bialek? - I had my rifle only for three or four weeks and then had to return it. I was never a Blockführer in 1943, and except for the Sunday I have already mentioned I never went to Birkenau on guard duties.

Under what circumstances did you leave Auschwitz? - On 19th June, 1944, I was put under arrest, and remained so until 12th April, 1945. When I left Auschwitz on 21st January, 1945, I went with 18 other prisoners also under arrest with four guards and a man from the Political Department. We all went on bicycles towards Herzberg. On 17th February, 1945, I arrived at Belsen at about 2230 hours. During the month of March I was released from arrest for one week and then put under arrest again because I tried to send a letter to a compatriot of mine called Hilde Löffler, in the women’s compound.

When did you leave Belsen? - On 12th April, 1945, at 1630 hours, under guard. We had to go in the direction of Neuengamme, but about 2030 hours I escaped and awaited the arrival of the British troops about 20 kilometres from Bergen-Belsen. They arrested me.

What have you got to say about the accusation made in the deposition of Karl Dolinski? - During March I was released only for the week, and in this week I was on duty only three times. On the third time I was arrested and never did guard duties accompanying prisoners, only guard duties on the watch towers.

Sompolinski accused you of killing a large number of prisoners during the three days before the British arrived, while you were in charge of a Kommando dragging bodies to the grave? - The witness in his affidavit said that I killed 25 people per day, and then in the court he said I killed 25 in one hour. Apart from that, during that period I was under arrest and I certainly could not do such a thing. It is completely untrue.

Cross-examined by Captain ROBERTS - Was accused No. 16 (Francioh) ever in prison with you at Belsen? - Yes. I do not know when he came into prison, but he was released two or three days before I left on 12th April.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - If Francioh says he was not released until the 12th, that would be wrong? - Yes.

What prison were you in in Belsen? - In the administrative part of the S.S. prison in the Wehrmacht Barracks area.

Have you known the girl Hilde Löffler for a long time? - Yes, I knew her when we were children.

Did you see her at Auschwitz and Belsen? - Yes. She is a very good type of girl.

You are really a Slovak. When you were called up for the S.S. did you represent yourself as being a Volksdeutscher? - No. I made enquiries as to why I, a Slovak, was conscripted, so they showed me a paper stating that I had been released from the Slovak Army.

I am suggesting to you that you were a volunteer? - I had been in the army for four years so had enough of it, and I had a very good position as a civil servant at home. The goods in my home were not rationed so why should I volunteer to go to Germany?

What was your pay in the Slovak Army and in the S.S.? - For one day, 1 Czech crown and 50 heller during peace time; 2 crowns 50 heller, that is 25 pfennigs, in war time. In the S.S. I got 1 mark and later 1 mark 20 pfennigs each day.

You were released from the Slovak Army to go into the S.S. and got double the pay to begin with and then three times? - Yes, but I could buy more for my 2 crowns 50 heller in Czechoslovakia than for 10 marks in Germany.

Had you been to Germany before? - In 1940 I was transferred for six weeks for manoeuvres near Vienna.

You say you were never Blockführer at all, and never were on guard duties inside the camp at Auschwitz? - Never.

How do you think Bialek knew you were a Slovak then? - They knew because as a driver I sometimes came inside the compound and if there were Slovaks I spoke to them in that language.

What did you do during the first month that you were there? - For three weeks we trained in all sorts of infantry drill. I returned my rifle and was put on motor transport work.

When you went on guard in the watch towers did you carry your rifle? - Yes, I borrowed them from the company office and for the eight weeks I was on guard duties I was issued with a rifle.

Was it forbidden for the men to speak to the women prisoners at Auschwitz, and did you take exception to prisoners doing it? - It was forbidden but I did not care about that.

How were the prisoners treated there? - They were very well treated in the women’s compound, gipsy compound and the men’s compound. Food was sufficient in Auschwitz everywhere.

Did you ever see anybody beaten in Auschwitz? - Not very often, but I have seen it. I saw Blockältesten and also the S.S. beat women. When I saw one prisoner beating another I immediately went and separated them. This was in the winter of 1943-44 when I was driving trucks with coal for the whole compound.

You went across and interfered. What did you do? - I started shouting at them and that was sufficient, because if an S.S. man shouted at the prisoners that was enough.

If an S.S. man shouted at the prisoners they immediately stopped whatever they were doing? - Yes, yes.

What would have happened to you if you had been caught when you were in guard allowing a male prisoner to speak to a woman prisoner? - It depended on who saw me. If he belonged to the same company as I, that was all right, but if he belonged to some other company he might have reported me. They could arrest me and put me into the bunker, and anyway, in the bunker it was better than outside.

Did you not have to guard between the various Lager as well as outside the perimeter? - No, the whole of the large perimeter, or at night time the smaller perimeter.

Was it not through the perimeter wires that the men used to try and talk to the women? - That was not possible because there was quarantine between, and also the mixed compound consisted of families.

I suggest that when you saw a man speaking to a woman you in fact hit him on the head with your rifle butt? - That is not true.

When you bicycled from Auschwitz to Herzberg, how long did it take? - About 15 to 20 kilometres cycling and I believe about nine or ten days for the whole journey. We had to walk more than we could cycle because it was very cold and there was heavy snow.

It is not more than about two and a half hours walking a day, is it? - We took it very easy. We stopped quite a few times and had a grog or two, and a cigarette, and then walked slowly and gently away.

It must be rather fun being a prisoner of the S.S., is it not.? - During the time in prison it was they who commanded, but on a journey it was we who commanded.

It took you a whole month to get from Auschwitz to Belsen? - Yes, but we passed through several other concentration camps.

What was the general condition of Belsen camp when you first saw it? - I really cannot say very much about the conditions. I did not see any bodies or corpses lying about, but I have been told about hunger.

Do you say that when you did duty in one of those watch towers you never saw any bodies lying about? - At that time, no.

Did you ever come into the compound? - No, only with the British.

Where were you when you were trying to give a letter to this girl in the women’s compound? - In the catwalk between the two compounds.

Under whose command were you? - I have done duty only twice and I do not know his name.

There was a separate guard company to guard outside, was there not? - I do not know who commanded the guard company. I know that one Sunday Kramer came into my cell and four or five of us were released. We had to sign that we would continue to do our duty in a better way.

I suggest that from then on you had ordinary duties in the camp? - No.

Did you get plenty of water when you were in the camp? - During the time I was in detention we had very little water.

Dolinski in his affidavit said that you were guarding some people who were doing repair work on a ditch. Were prisoners working on a drainage system? - I do not know.

I suggest that you were guarding men working on that ditch, that you kicked one into the ditch, and that when he got out you hit him on the head with a spade? - That is not true.

You say you left the camp on the 12th under arrest. How did you get away from your guard? - There were several air raid warnings on that day, and always when a warning came we had to run into the woods and stay there until it was over. It was dark, so I suddenly thought I would go away. I arrived in a village called Sülze and there I waited in the house of a family until British troops arrived.

I suggest that you were not released from that camp at all on the 12th and that you were released from arrest during the last frantic effort to clean the camp up? - I was not under the jurisdiction of Kramer because my papers belonged to Mittelbau Concentration Camp, where I had been convicted.

You say you had been convicted in Mittelbau, but you had been released by Kramer already irrespective of anything you had done before you got there? - Yes, Kramer received a telegram.

The second arrest was for an offence in the camp at Belsen, and you had not been tried for that, had you? - No. My arrest had not been dealt with, but I understand that it would have been dealt with in a summary way, and that is the reason why I escaped.

Were you not acting as guard inside that camp right up to the time the British came? - No.

Did you see the prisoners dragging the corpses away? - I have not seen that.

Were you not supervising these people and beating them on the head and body with your rifle as they went? - No.

I suggest to you that with every other S.S. man who could be found in either camp you were put on to clear that camp up? - I was in detention at that time awaiting trial, so nobody could force me to work unless I volunteered for it.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - When you were put in arrest in June, 1944, were you brought before some court and sentenced to some period of detention? - I was sentenced by the S.S. Police Court to five months, with the possibility of joining the front line.

Why were you released on 28th August? - Because this Police Court had not proper jurisdiction.

Why were you re-arrested a week later? - I was a guard guarding two male prisoners who came into the bath-house of the women’s compound to do some repairs on the chimney and they had a bottle of Schnaps, and I was just drinking with them. I got two years’ imprisonment by the S.S. Court at Katowice, again with the possibility of a front line job. I should have served this sentence in Auschwitz No. 1.

When you came to Belsen you were still undergoing the two years’ sentence. Who had the right at Belsen to interfere with that sentence? - Only Obergruppenführer Schmeiser had the right.

Who ordered your release from this two years’ sentence then in March? - Kramer had a telegram in his hand.

Then you committed another offence and you were never tried for that although you were left waiting for nearly a month? - Yes.

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Ladislaw Gura)