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

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Fritz Mathes)

FRITZ MATHES, sworn, examined by Major BROWN- I was born on 13th June, 1893, at Offenbach, and joined the German Army on 26th July, 1944. I did not volunteer. We trained in Frankfurt for eight weeks, spent five days in Berlin, and then went to Bennefeld, where from 1st September until 20th November I worked in a butter [ammunition] factory. I arrived in Belsen on 22nd or 23rd November and was employed in the S.S. Kitchen until 10th or 11th January, 1945, when I transferred to the bath-house, where I remained up to 15th April, 1945.

When did you join the S.S.? - On 25th January, 1945, our pay books were withdrawn and on 1st February we received new ones from the S.S. and we were given S.S. uniforms. About 30 men who came from Frankfurt with me joined at the same time.

Were you ever in the prisoners’ part of Belsen Camp? - No. Once, before Christmas, I went with some S.S. to the stores to get some shoes. It was in the front of the camp and that was the only time I was in the prisoner’s part. The S.S. Cookhouse and bath-house were in the administrative area of the S.S. camp.

Paul Cech in his affidavit stated that you were the chief of No 2 Kitchen at Belsen, that you fired your pistol at some men trying to steal carrots and that such incidents occurred every day up to 15th April. What have you to say about that? - I was not in Kitchen No. 2, so it cannot have been me. Heuskel, the chief of that kitchen, looks rather like me as he is the same size and age.

Grunwald and Lichtenstein both say that they saw you shooting prisoners trying to steal carrots? - I must give the same answer I gave before. I have never shot or ill-treated any prisoners.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - What was your duty at Bennefeld? - I worked in the administration and kept the books. I was a cook as well.

Where was the S.S. Kitchen in Belsen? - In the front part of the S.S. area, not far from the bath-house.

Was it not on the main street running through the camp, and did prisoners not pass it regularly as they were going to and from work? - Yes.

Did they never try to get under the wire and steal anything? - No.

Was there a pile of food outside the kitchen? - No.

All these allegations against you are made in the last week or two, are they not? - Yes.

What were you doing in the bath-house after the water was turned off? - We had water up to the 11th. After that we had to do all kinds of repairs. There was still some coal left and we used wood from old chairs and every kind of material we could use. We also burned a pile of old soles of shoes.

We have been told that the bath-house could not be used because not only had you run out of water, but you had run out of fuel. Is that true? - We used the bath-house until the 5th or 6th and then it was deloused, after which we could bath Arbeitskommandos until the 11th. There was hot water until then.

Did a lot of S.S. leave on the 11th April? - Yes. About the 12th the S.S. company left and I should have gone with them but I asked to be allowed to stay behind.

Who took over the kitchen when you left it ? - The S.S. kitchen chief, May.

Was a man called Melcher never in the kitchen at all? - No, he came from Auschwitz in March and went to the bath-house, where he was with me until we were arrested.

From the 11th the bath-house had no water, and I suggest to you that you went back to your old employment of cook when the S.S. left? - No. All the cookhouse personnel in the S.S. Kitchen were there.

Francioh was not available, according to him. He was either arrested or on leave. Are you sure you did not take his place? - I have seen him once in the office and once in the store; he was a prisoner there.

Are you really suggesting that you look like Heuskel? He is a broad-shouldered man with a large mop of hair and a square chin, and is nothing like you at all, is he? - I did not say that he looked like me. We were the same age, the same size, and he was working in the kitchen too, there must have been a mistake.

Do you not think it strange that three quite different people have recognised you as the person who is responsible for these shootings? - Yes, I cannot tell you how this could happen.

The camp was in a terrible state by that time, was it not? - I cannot say because I never was in the camp.

You could see it from the S.S. Compound quite easily, could you not? - No. If you wanted to go back to the compounds you needed special permit from the Kommandant and a special armlet.

You did not need to go into the compound, you could smell it? - I have not smelt anything.

Did you ever, see any bodies lying about, or anything of this procession of people dragging bodies away in that last three or four days? - No.

For four or five days you stayed from six in the morning until six in the evening in the bath-house, with neither water nor fuel in it, is that right? - Yes, we had our work there repairing the taps. Now and then we went out to get our food and sometimes we played cards. For instance, Egersdorf was also there. He was sleeping there.

Kommandant Kramer, who was trying his best to do something for the prisoners and to clean up the camp, and who was crying out for staff, left the three of you playing cards in an empty bath-house after the water had been turned off and the fuel had run out. What on earth was the work for three of you in a bath-house? - There was quite a lot of work to do and certainly more than you could do in one day.

I put it to you that there is not one word of truth in this story yours about being in the bath-house for the last few days, and that the real truth of the matter is that you and Melcher were both employed in the kitchen and that you both indulged in this popular sport of shooting internees who came up to the kitchen and tried to get an odd carrot or potato peeling? - No, I must repeat that I was in the bath-house until we were arrested.

What was Egersdorf's job there? - He was in the food store and had nothing to do in the bath-house. He was only sleeping there at night.

When did you first run out of fuel for the bath-house? - We had fuel until the last. We had more fuel than water.

By the JUDGE ADVOCATE - How many cooks were there in the S.S. Kitchen in Belsen? - Four. May was in charge.

Did you carry a pistol? - No.

Were there any S.S. guards posted round the S.S. Kitchen in the later days? - I cannot tell.

By a Member of the Court - Which cookhouse did you say Heuskel was in charge of? - As far as I know it was Kitchen No. 2.

But I thought you said you had never heard of Kitchen No. 2 before? - I did not know about Kitchen No. 2, but in several affidavits his name is mentioned in connection with that kitchen.

It could easily have been someone else then? - As far as I know there was only Kitchen No. 2 as the affidavits mentioned. That is all I know about that kitchen. I have been asking several of the accused, and Francioh and Egersdorf have told me there was only one Kitchen No. 2.

GISELA KOBLISCHEK, sworn, examined by Major BROWN - I am a Czechoslovak, born on the 11th December, 1920, and was in Belsen Concentration Camp from the end of March until 12th April, 1945, or in reality until 17th April, 1945. I was Aufseherin in Kitchen No. 2, which was under Oberscharführer Heuskel. I know Accused No. 18 (Fritz Mathes) who was in the bath-house. I have never seen him in Kitchen No. 2.

Cross-examined by Colonel BACKHOUSE - Where did you get your training as an Aufseherin? - In Langenbilau, which belongs to Concentration Camp Gross Rosen.

How long were you in the S.S.? - Nine months.

What was the condition of Belsen Camp when you came there? - It looked pretty bad, but I cannot say very much because I was not in the camp very much myself.

Kitchen No. 2 was in the camp itself, was it not? - Yes, but I stayed in the cookhouse and was not allowed to leave the place of my work.

Who were the other Aufseherinnen in your kitchen? - Hempel.

How did the S.S. men behave to the people in the kitchen? - Heuskel maybe was severe but I think just. I did not see him doing any shooting.

What Aufseherinnen worked in Kitchen No. 1? - Ilse Forster. I do not remember the name of the second.

Did you ever go into the bath-house in the last few days? - No. I was on duty in the bath-house only once, on the first or second Sunday after I had joined Belsen Camp.

When exactly did you leave Belsen itself? - On 12th April all Aufseherinnen went to Neuengamme, and were recalled on the 13th to Belsen. On 17th April I was admitted to hospital.

You have not the slightest idea as to whether Mathes was in the bath-house the last week or not, have you? - No, I do not know.

The Trial (Defence - Evidence for the Defendant Fritz Mathes)